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Fish and Egg Producers Must Follow FDA Dioxin Testing Directive

  Following are excerpts from today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette lead 
  story on the dioxin in chicken and fish.   It addresses some of the 
  questions asked about yesterday's article. 
  Chaney, D., Plunkett, C.  Fish industry not off dioxin-test hook.  
  Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 16, 1997
   Hundreds of Arkansas catfish farmers may be ordered by a federal 
  agency to test fish for dioxin.  The farmers said that could decimate 
  the $52.2 million-a-year industry and plunge many farms into 
   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 onduct 
  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 unscientific decisions and the 
  dioxin levels in meat represent no immediate health r k.
   "This is obviously regulation overkill on the part of the FDE 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."
   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
   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. . "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 down."
   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. .
   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 
   "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." .. A month ago, 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.
   "You have to take action at some point,"  Knight [USDA spokesman] 
  said.  "We're looking at this as though there is no immediate 
  concern.  Scientists tell us that over time it could 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 
   Dickey [R-Ark] 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 regulations.
   "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 an worldwide.
   How the directive will apply to eggs is a mystery, said Randy Wyatt, 
  vice president of the Arkansas Poultry Federation.
   "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. .. 
  Livestock and dairy producers in Arkansas have not been affected by 
  the directive, officials in those industries said Tuesday.
   Livestock and dairy producers in Arkansas have not been affected by 
  the directive, officials in those industries said Tuesday
  Pat Costner
  P.O. Box 548, or 512 CR 2663
  Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72632 USA
  ph:  501-253-8440
  fx:  501-253-5540
  em:  pat.costner@dialb.greenpeace.org