BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The European Union Commission on Tuesday approved a Belgian government plan to provide discounted loans to farmers and food companies that suffered from the recent dioxin food crisis.

Belgian banks will lend up to 620 million euros ($650 million) and the debt will be guaranteed by the government and the banks. The banks are also offering the loans at very favorable rates.

``Eligibility is restricted to undertakings that are basically sound and viable but have experienced large declines in sales in June and July,'' the Commission said. The Commission said that companies must have seen a drop in sales of 25 percent over the two months, or 40 percent in a single month, to qualify for the loans.

Belgium was hit by dioxin pollution fears in May when the government announced that excessive levels of the cancer-causing chemical had been discovered in eggs, meat and dairy products.

The crisis led to a wide range of products being pulled from supermarket shelves, causing the biggest food safety scandal in Europe since the 1996 British ``mad cow'' disease crisis. Belgian food products were taken off the shelves around the world and Belgian products continue to suffer from an image problem.