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Threatened Dutch footwear survives an EU shoe showdown

November 14, 1997

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Dutch workers can safely step into the new millennium in medieval wooden shoes.

Researchers who put six centuries of romance and tradition to the test said Thursday they’re satisfied that the humble but venerable Dutch clog can go toe-to-toe with steel-reinforced safety boots in the workplace.

``We were very tough on them, and they came through,″ said Jan Broeders of the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, which ran the battery of tests.

``I’m not surprised. We’ve known for years that clogs give very good protection,″ he said. ``A normal shoe only protects the toes. A wooden shoe protects the entire foot.″

Skeptical bureaucrats at European Union headquarters in Brussels had ordered the testing last spring, part of their ongoing push to set common standards for everything from computers to condoms.

Though most wooden shoes today are sold to tourists or used by the Dutch in their gardens, they remain the footgear of choice for thousands of farmers, fishermen, road repairmen, factory workers and artisans.

Without an EU stamp of approval, officials had warned, companies could be liable for injuries suffered by clog-wearing employees. Wooden work shoes, usually made from native poplar or willow, technically have been illegal in the Netherlands since 1995, when the EU began setting product standards for its 15 member countries.

``We’ve got standards for other protective footwear, but none for clogs. They had to pass the test,″ said Stewart Sanson, spokesman for the EU’s Standardization Committee in Brussels.

Using machines that had to be retooled to handle wooden shoes instead of the boots and sneakers they were designed for, researchers in the central Netherlands spent two months punishing low-tech clogs at a high-tech lab.

They bashed them with a mechanical 45-pound hammer; compressed them with 1-ton weights to simulate being run over by a car; pierced their soles with nails; submerged them in water; baked them in ovens heated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit; and chilled them in minus-20 freezers.

Work clogs matched or outperformed work boots, securing a foothold in the future _ and vindicating resentful clogmakers who had accused the Eurocrats of needlessly tampering with tradition.

Clogs, which date to the mid-1300s, have become as much a symbol of Holland as tulips and windmills. Some saw the EU tests as threatening a way of life.

``Utter nonsense. Don’t they have anything better to do?″ growled Paul Nijhuis, a clogmaker in the eastern Dutch town of Beltrum. ``The clog has survived for 600 years. Without it, the folklore would quickly die.″

Clog manufacturers claim there has never been a case in which wooden shoes were proven to have caused an injury. On the contrary, they say, clogs have protected farmers when cows stepped on their feet, and shielded road workers whose toes might otherwise have been crushed or severed in conventional work boots.

``Steel plates in safety boots are like little guillotines over your toes,″ Nijhuis said, adding: ``Clogs are excellent footwear _ warm in the winter and cool in the summer.″

Despite winning EU safety certification, the beloved shoe known here as the ``klomp″ isn’t completely out of the woods.

Its biggest threat now is dwindling demand: Only about two dozen manufacturers are still in business, far fewer than the postwar high of 1,800.

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