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USDA sets 1 ppt dioxin limt for some foods
"DIOXIN RULING KEEPS 2,000 WORKERS HOME"
This is the front-page headline of today's state paper, the Arkansas
Democrat-Gazette, July 15, 1997. The three most interesting aspects
of this article are 1) the U.S. Department of Agriculture has
apparently declared the acceptable level of dioxin in food to be 1
part per trillion; 2) the article describes only the problems caused
to the food industry with no acknowledgment of the public health
threat; and 3) the food industry's response of sending workers home
until testing is completed would seem to be a tactic designed to
evoke worker and public resistance to this and similar rulings.
Plunkett, C., Chaney, D. Dioxin ruling keeps 2,000 workers home.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 15, 1997
At least 2,000 employees of poultry-processing plants in Arkansas
stayed home Monday, following a directive from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, which has stepped up its scrutiny of dioxin levels in
processed meat. The directive, issued July 8, became effective at
A last-minute meeting Thursday to exempt catfish prevented what
experts said could have been the virtual collapse of that industry in
Arkansas and Mississippi.
About 1,300 employees at ConAgra Inc.'s poultry-processing plant in
Batesville were forced to stay home Monday. They will remain off the
job until the company can prove through testing that dioxin levels in
poultry are lower than 1 part per trillion.
Dioxin is a waste byproduct of some chemical processes and is a
As late as July 3, the USDA stated that dioxin levels of 3 to 4
parts per trillion were safe for human consumption. However, on July
8 the agency instituted the new 1-part-per-trillion directive.
Attempts late Monday to reach officials at the federal agencies
involved weren't successful.
Lynn Phares, spokesman for the company based in Omaha, Neb., said
its Batesville plant is the only one the company had to close.
Tyson Foods Inc. based in Springdale, kept 300 to 400 employees from
working Monday at two kill plants in Pine Bluff. The company's
spokesman Archie Shaffer III, said he didn't have "any idea" when
those employees would be back at work.
At Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc.'s Honeysuckle White plant in
Ozark, 400 employees were told to stay home Monday and today. .
The workers are on hold because three federal agencies - the Food
and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the
USDA - warned any company that had bought feed from Riceland Foods
Inc. of Stuttgart and Quincy Soybean Co. of Helena w hin the last few
months to prove that its processed poultry contained levels of dioxin
lower than 1 part per trillion.
Riceland and Quincy sell feed to agricultural industries in Arkansas
In June the FDA discovered that two Tyson chickens contained dioxin
levels of 3 to 4 parts per trillion. The agency said the levels were
safe for humans, but "now that the contaminated feed has been
identified, the agencies have initiated action to prevent any further
exposure to elevated levels of dioxin in food for human or animal
use." The 1-part-per-trillion dioxin level also applies to eggs.
Officials eventually traced the dioxin problem to the animals' feed,
which contained ball clay from the Kentucky-Tennessee Ball Clay Co.
in Crenshaw, Miss.
The 1 part-per-trillion directive has been an operational nightmare
for Hudson Foods Inc., based in Rogers. Fewer than 20 laboratories
in the nation can test for such small levels of dioxin.
For Tyson, the directive came as a surprise.
"The highest levels we ever found in our product was 3 to 4 parts
per trillion, which the government agencies assured us imposed no
immediate health risk," Schaffer said, adding that, because an
acceptable level hadn't been identified previously, this month's
requirement seemed arbitrary, and therefore maddening.
Randy Wyatt, vice president of the Arkansas Poultry Federation
"The struggle the industry is having is, are [the agencies] using
good solid scientific evidence to determine how the levels are
arrived at?" Wyatt asked. "We'd like to know the basis of the
Officials at the state Department of Health weren't prepared to
comment on the directive Monday.
Sloan Houston, a spokesman at Riceland, said the mill sold feed
primarily to broiler and egg producers in Arkansas and Mississippi.
He said the company sold feed to as many as 20 companies, but he
declined to name them or comment further. .
Mike Freeze, vice president and owner of Keo Fish Farms Inc. and a
board member of the National Aquaculture Association, said the
state's catfish farming industry would have been decimated if dioxin
testing was required. But he said the fish farmers wer given a
last-minute reprieve by the FDA.
Freeze said about 60 percent of the state's 300 catfish farmers had
used some of the contaminated feed and FDA officials began visiting
the state's fish farms July 3.
.catfish farmers were initially told they had to stop processing
fish as of Sunday until they were able to get their fish tested,
Because of the lack of testing labs, he expected a 30-day turnaround
period for test results .. Also, catfish normally have to be sampled
for taste about two weeks before they go into processing, he said.
That six weeks with no processing would be enough to push many of the
farmers into bankruptcy, he said.
we were talking an enormous problem, not just a few farms being put
at a disadvantage, it was gong to break the catfish farms in Arkansas
and Mississippi," Freeze said.
Several fish farmers retained legal counsel and were prepared to sue
the feed companies, he said.
Aquaculture industry and FDA officials met four hours Thursday .
Catfish farmers expressed their concerns to FDA .
P.O. Box 548, or 512 CR 2663
Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72632 USA