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More on dioxin in AR..
I wrote too soon...
This morning's AR Democrat-Gazette article on the contaminated feed
answers many of my earlier questions...
I'm still curious about the constant reference to how few labs in the
country are able to perform the testing...
>From the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Wednesday July 16, 1997:
Fish industry not off dioxin-test hook
DON CHANEY AND CHUCK PLUNKETT
Hundreds of Arkansas catfish farmers may be ordered by a federal
agency this week to test fish for dioxin. The
farmers said that could decimate the $52.2 million-a-year industry
and plunge many farms into bankruptcy.
Industry officials last week understood they would be exempt
indefinitely from increased federal scrutiny of
dioxin levels in processed meat and fish. But Tuesday, officials at
the Food and Drug Administration said the
farmers will likely be required to conduct expensive tests to prove
that the edible meat in their fish contains dioxin
in levels of less than 1 part per trillion.
Dioxin is a suspected carcinogen.
A similar directive, issued by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, took
effect at midnight Sunday and kept at least 2,000 poultry workers
off the job Monday. About 1,300 returned to
Effective at midnight today, egg producers also have to meet the
testing requirements. How that will affect the
state's nearly $1 billion commercial egg industry is unknown.
State and federal officials said they are furious at the federal
agencies responsible for ordering the tests. The
directives, the officials said, are based on arbitrary and
unscientific decisions and the dioxin levels in meat represent
no immediate health risk.
"This is obviously regulation overkill on the part of the FDA
and the [Environmental Protection Agency],'' said
Gov. Mike Huckabee. "What they're going to end up doing, with no
scientific data to support them, is put
thousands of Arkansans out of work either permanently or
temporarily and possibly go a long way toward
destroying our economy.''
Mike Freeze, vice president and owner of Keo Farms Inc. and a
board member of the National Aquaculture
Association, expressed frustration with the FDA's changing policy
toward testing fish.
"I've never seen a government agency act like this in my life,''
Freeze said. "I always thought the IRS was
someone you feared and [that] did irrational things, but this would
be hilarious if it wasn't so serious.''
On the basis of dioxin found in 2-year-old fish samples, the
Food Safety and Inspection Service ordered catfish
farmers to meet the midnight Sunday testing deadline, which would
have shut down much of the catfish farming
industry in Arkansas.
However, after two meetings late last week, the industry was
exempted from the deadline.
The first meeting was Thursday in Stuttgart and involved
Arkansas and Mississippi catfish farmers, officials from
the three federal agencies involved, and staff members from state
and federal elected officials.
The second meeting was Friday in Washington, D.C., in the
conference room of Senate Majority Leader Trent
Lott, R-Miss. That meeting involved federal agency officials; Lott;
U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark.; U.S. Rep.
Jay Dickey, R-Ark.; and several other senators and representatives
from affected states.
Catfish industry officials believed the crisis had been avoided,
Freeze said. FDA officials issued a memo Friday
saying they were indefinitely delaying the testing program for
catfish farmers, he said.
But there were more meetings Tuesday afternoon among FDA
officials, industry representatives and politicians,
and a new deadline seemed to be imminent.
Ben Noble, a legislative aide for Bumpers, said the FDA is
planning to announce its new deadline Thursday.
After discussions with the FDA, Noble said he thinks the deadline
will be sometime next week and the agency
won't change its "arbitrary'' 1-part-per-trillion benchmark.
Because there are few testing laboratories, farmers are being
told to expect a 30-day wait for results, Freeze
said. That delay could force many of them into bankruptcy, he said.
"Right now, I'm afraid to tell a farmer what to do, except he
better get some samples sent off soon,'' Freeze
"We're doing everything we can at the state level to express
outrage,'' Huckabee said. "We're looking at every
possible option we have and we're not going to take this lying
The governor asked Dr. Sandra Nichols, director of the state
Department of Health, to look into the federal
agencies' use of 1 part per trillion as its safety standard for
Nichols said the Health Department consulted state and federal
health agencies and officials to find information
on the subject. "We can find no study or report or information that
levels of 1 part per trillion creates an acute or
long-range threat,'' she said.
In fact, Nichols said, during the dioxin clean-up at the Vertac
Chemical Corp. plant in Jacksonville, the Health
Department conducted a study on a control group of Mabelvale
residents that showed the mean dioxin level in
humans is 2.65 parts per trillion.
For 10 years, the FDA has had a game fish dioxin tolerance level
of 25 parts per trillion, Nichols said. There
has been no joint standard for acceptable levels in other foods,
But, consumers concerned about dioxin -- which is stored in
fatty tissue -- can reduce chances of exposure by
selecting lean cuts of meat and trimming fat from meat, according
to the Health Department.
Lawrence Bachorik, an FDA spokesman, said the
higher-than-1-part-per-trillion levels of dioxin detected in
poultry and fish aren't an immediate danger to consumers and that's
why those products aren't being pulled from
grocery shelves. But, he said, the 1-part-per-trillion figure --
arrived at in conjunction with the EPA and USDA --
is about 10 times the "background levels'' in the environment and
anything higher than that is a concern over the
"With dioxin, the issue is in essence the lifetime burden of
exposure,'' Bachorik said. "There's a background
level of dioxin that everyone's exposed to. When you've identified
a source and can control it, you should shut that
Jacque Knight, a USDA spokesman, said that during a routine
survey in May, the agency discovered
higher-than-normal levels of dioxin in two chickens from two
processing plants owned by Tyson Foods Inc. of
The USDA's findings triggered an investigation that revealed
that the toxin came from ball clay mined by the
Kentucky-Tennessee Ball Clay Co. in Crenshaw, Miss., which sold
contaminated clay to Riceland Foods Inc. of
Stuttgart and Quincy Soybean Co. of Helena for use as an
A month ago, the USDA directed 69 companies that handle chicken,
turkey, beef and pork products in
Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas to stop using the
Last week, the three federal agencies decided to order those
companies to prove that their edible products
contain levels of dioxin at less than 1 part per trillion.
"You have to take action at some point,'' Knight said. "We're
looking at this as, though there is no immediate
concern. Scientists tell us that over time it can become a health
threat. [The directive] is a signal to the industry to
get their processes in order, and we feel that doing so is a
Dickey disagreed. After high-level meetings with agency
officials over the past several days, Dickey said he
thinks the testing level the agencies decided on is a trial balloon
floated to gauge industry reaction to possible future
"I don't know what they're saying,'' Dickey said. "I don't know
what the basis is for what they're saying. The
sad part is ... even though [the directive] is not supported by
scientific tests, it's affecting markets not only in
Arkansas, but nationally and worldwide.''
The directive kept 400 Tyson employees at two kill plants in
Pine Bluff and 400 employees at Cargill Inc.'s
Honeysuckle White plant in Ozark away from work Monday and Tuesday.
Cargill employees are expected to
return to work today. Cargill is based in Minneapolis.
After staying home Monday, about 1,300 employees at ConAgra
Inc.'s poultry-processing plant in Batesville
were back at work Tuesday, said company spokesman Lynn Phares. The
company scheduled nonchicken
production, not affected by the testing directive, Phares said. The
company is based in Omaha, Neb.
"With the situation like it is, the best we can do is look at it
on a day-by-day basis,'' she said. "Today and
tomorrow are OK.''
About 100 slaughter workers didn't go to work Tuesday at the
company's El Dorado plant, which employs
1,200 people and won't be shut down, Phares said.
The commercial broiler industry accounted for about $2.1 billion
of Arkansas' economy in 1996, according to
the Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service in Little Rock.
How the directive will apply to eggs is a mystery, said Randy
Wyatt, vice president of the Arkansas Poultry
"Several of our companies have had to stop production,'' he
said, adding that the federation has advised
Arkansas producers to begin following the directive before today's
"We are in a holding pattern for 48 hours,'' Wyatt said. "We're
calling [the agencies] every 30 minutes.''
Livestock and dairy producers in Arkansas have not been affected
by the directive, officials in those industries