STC Number - 63

Information on dioxin

Maintained by: Unspecified
Raised by: European Union
Supported by:
First date raised: July 1999 G/SPS/R/15 paras. 17-22
Dates subsequently raised: March 2000 (G/SPS/R/18 para. 19)
June 2000 (G/SPS/R/19 para. 9)
Number of times subsequently raised: 2
Relevant documents: G/SPS/GEN/123 G/SPS/GEN/123/Add.1 G/SPS/GEN/123/Add.2 G/SPS/GEN/123/Add.3 G/SPS/GEN/123/Add.4 G/SPS/GEN/1051
Products covered:
Primary subject keyword: Food safety
Keywords: Food safety; Human health; International Standards / Harmonization
Status: Resolved
Solution: In October 2010, the European Union indicated that the issue was resolved (G/SPS/GEN/1051) (G/SPS/R/61, par. 47).
Date reported as resolved: 13/10/2010

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In July 1999, the representative of the European Communities informed the Committee on the current situation regarding dioxin contamination. Several countries had taken actions in response to this very specific, limited incident. The European Communities had already provided extensive information through information notes (G/SPS/GEN/123 and Add.1), and as a result of a series of information meetings. The Commission had been informed on 27 May 1999 of a potential dioxin contamination linked to the distribution of animal feeding stuffs in late January 1999 in Belgium. Following discussion in the Standing Veterinary Committee, the Commission adopted decision 1999/363/EC covering poultry and poultry products, and soon thereafter a decision which extended the scope of the provision to porcine and bovine animals and products. These decisions had the objectives of (a) protecting health by withdrawing contaminated products from the market; (b) improving restrictions on potentially affected feeding stuff producers and farms that may have received feed from these companies; (c) tracing and identifying all suspect animal feed or products from animals that may have been fed this feed; and (d) providing for the certification of products of Belgian origin that came from farms not under restriction, or products that had tested negatively. The European Communities had subsequently taken a number of measures, including adoption of model certificates for Belgian products, and the repatriation of products which could not be cleared. National and EC-level studies had shown that contamination was indeed limited to the contamination of fat in January, and that the measures taken had been sufficient to contain the contamination. In fact, many of the feed establishments and farms initially placed under restriction had subsequently been cleared. At the time of the July SPS meeting, only 1200 farms were still under restriction, less than 2 percent of the total. On 8 July 1999, the Standing Veterinary Committee had approved a proposal to exclude milk and milk products from restriction measures since they were free from contamination. In June, Belgian authorities had prohibited the slaughtering of different animals, which had enabled them to identify affected farms and to ensure that all products subsequently produced had not been contaminated by dioxin. Products produced after 12 June 1999 would be accompanied by a certificate, with the exception of milk and milk products which would be cleared shortly.

Since testing for dioxin was time-consuming and expensive, scientific work had led to screening methods for PCBs in order to establish whether products or animals had been affected. This allowed quicker product clearance. Since all products on the market in the European Communities, whether from Belgium or not, should at that point be clear of contamination, the representative of the European Communities trusted that third countries would revert back to normal trading arrangements. Scientific work on PCB screening methods would continue. The European Communities was contemplating future changes in its legislation. The representative stressed that this was a problem that affected all WTO Members since no country was dioxin-free. Hopefully lessons learned from this incident could be useful to all Members. He promised to keep the Committee informed in the future. Although initially it had been understandable that countries took trade measures to protect themselves from contaminated products, there was no longer any justification for maintaining import bans. He particularly regretted that several countries had not notified their import bans, and the European Communities reserved its right to take action with regard to unjustified barriers.

The representatives of Malaysia, Canada and the United States requested copies of the EC statement. The representative of Malaysia expressed his disappointment that the European Communities had taken so long to provide information to the Committee, so that his authorities had to rely on press reports. The Malaysian Government would only be able to lift its ban when it was fully satisfied that there was no more danger from European products. The problem with Switzerland had been solved, and now imports with a certificate of origin proving that the product was dioxin-free could be imported to Malaysia. He considered that these measures were consistent with Malaysia's rights under the SPS Agreement. He read out a press report regarding contaminated chicken in Germany and the Netherlands.

The representative of South Africa appreciated the co-operation of Belgian authorities during the dioxin crisis. He considered that the information flow - once it had begun - had been satisfactory. To ensure safety, South Africa would have bilateral discussions. The representatives of Australia, Canada, Brazil and the United States thanked the European Communities for its efforts to inform other countries. Australia and the United States indicated that they had notified any actions taken in response to the dioxin contamination. Canada had banned imports from Belgium, but was reviewing the products and areas covered. The representative of the Philippines indicated that the Philippines' measures had taken into account the European Communities' own measures, and were being reassessed.

The representative of the WHO informed the Committee that in 1998 the WHO had convened an expert consultation to evaluate the tolerable daily dose of dioxin to which humans could be exposed without harm. He offered to provide interested delegates with an executive summary of this consultation, which was also available from the WHO web site (http://www.who.int/fsf/dioxin/whoinf.htm). The representative of Codex reported that at the July 1999 meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, countries had requested that an intergovernmental group prepare a code of practice for animal feed. She requested that WTO Members use the experience gained through the recent dioxin crisis to facilitate the work of this group.

The representative of the European Communities thanked the delegate of the WHO for his help at the beginning of the crisis. He took note of the Codex initiative, which he considered helpful since a global scientific look into this problem was required. The European Communities had itself started a working group within the Standing Committee on Animal Nutrition that was examining legislation regarding animal nutrition to prevent future accidents. The representative of Chile thanked the European Communities as well as WHO and Codex for the information provided. He emphasised that the intergovernmental working group on animal feed, hosted by Norway, had the same characteristics as a Codex Committee and was thus open to all member countries, but with a shorter time-frame. He asked his colleagues working on food safety to base on science the information they provided to the public to avoid causing unnecessary public alarm.

In March 2000, the representative of the European Communities drew the attention of the Committee to document G/SPS/GEN/123/Add.3, containing an update of the dioxin contamination incident that had occurred in Belgium last year. All restrictions in the Belgian beef and dairy sectors had been lifted in July and September 1999, while no restrictions had been necessary on products of animal origin from other EC member States. The representative of the European Communities recalled that he had not criticized trade restrictions put in place by third countries, as at the beginning of the crisis the extent of contamination had not been clear. He expressed his appreciation to those Members who had adjusted their measures according to the information provided by the Commission. However, many WTO Members continued to apply more stringent measures, which significantly restricted trade from Belgium and other EC member States. In the light of the scientific evidence and the information provided by the European Communities concerning the scope of the contamination, he found it increasingly difficult to accept the continuation of these unjustified trade disruptions. In its document, the European Communities had outlined a number of notifications related to dioxin contamination for which they had asked the notifying Members to justify its import measures. The European Communities looked forward to receiving replies from these Members, and would continue to evaluate measures, whether or not they had been notified to the WTO. The European Communities reserved its rights to take any necessary action with regard to unjustified trade barriers, but was confident that the information provided would enable Members to adjust their measures to the current situation.

In June 2000, with reference to the 1999 dioxin contamination event in Belgium, the representative of the European Communities explained that all previously restricted products could now be circulated and exported without any additional certification. The representative of the European Communities acknowledged a general acceptance among Members that EC and Belgian products no longer represented a health risk. However, some Members had neither lifted their measures nor responded to the January 2000 letter requesting that they remove them. He emphasized that the European Communities reserved its right to any necessary action with regard to unjustified trade barriers. G/SPS/GEN/123/Add.4 was the final document in a series of publications informing the Committee of issues related to the dioxin contamination.