Application Note

Varian Products Help Calm Belgian Food Scare

European laboratories are using analytical products from Varian Inc. (Palo Alto, CA; 650-424-6880) to test for the toxins responsible for the recent food scare in Belgium. The food crisis focused on Belgian meat and dairy products distributed throughout Europe. These were contaminated by two toxic compounds: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins. An estimated US$850 million was lost because of the crisis.

Food Scare Details
Solution: Varian Columns

Food Scare Details (Back to Top)
In early June 1999, the Belgian government called on businesses to remove Belgian meat and dairy products from store shelves because officials feared that the products were contaminated with PCBs and dioxins. This led most nations to suspend imports of Belgian beef, poultry, pork, eggs, milk, and byproducts. The tainted food products apparently resulted from over 400 Belgian farms using animal feed laced with PCBs and dioxin, causing the biggest European food scare since the 1996 "mad cow" crisis.

Immediately following the product withdrawal, demand increased significantly for European food and toxicology laboratories to test food samples for contamination. Fast and accurate testing methods were critical so that safe products could be returned to store shelves. The Belgian food and farm industries estimate that they have lost more than US$850 million because of this crisis.

Solution: Varian Columns (Back to Top)
Overworked European food laboratories contacted Varian for specialized GC and GC/MS columns used in PCB and dioxin screening. In less than a week, 10 labs in Belgium and the Netherlands placed orders for Varian columns. Laboratories in Spain and Italy have also placed orders for Varian's Saturn 2000 GC/MS/MS, a powerful instrument that will be used to test food samples.

Varian's CP-Select for PCB 28/31 column, developed for rapid PCB screening, allows labs to test for PCBs in half the time that is required for other columns. Once labs detect PCBs in food products, they must further test the samples for the cancer-causing agent chemical dioxin. For this process, Varian supplied CP-Sil columns that provide powerful sample-separation capabilities. Using these, labs could determine the precise dioxin levels in the food products to establish the severity of contamination.

Varian is a world leader in scientific instruments and vacuum technologies serving life science, health care, chemical, environmental, and industrial customers. It is a supplier of analytical instrument solutions, nuclear magnetic resonance systems, and vacuum products and services. The company manufactures products in 10 locations in North America, Europe, and the Pacific Rim, and employs approximately 3,000 people. Varian had 1998 sales of $558 million.

For more information, call Colleen Sweeney of Varian at 650-424-6880.