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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
       Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
       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
       work Tuesday.
          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
  human consumption.
          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,
  Nichols said.
          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
       long term.
          "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
       dioxin off.''
          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
  anti-caking ingredient.
          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
  contaminated feed.
          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
  manageable situation.''
          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
  midnight deadline.
          "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
       said Tuesday.