Britain and Ireland warned consumers Sunday not to eat any Irish pork products after tests revealed they may be contaminated with toxic dioxins.
The Irish government has ordered a recall of all domestic pork products from shops, restaurants and food processing plants because of contamination with dioxin — which in some forms and concentrations, and with long exposure, can cause cancer and other health problems.
Authorities said 10 farms in Ireland and another nine farms in the British province of Northern Ireland had used a contaminated pig feed that prompted Dublin to announce the recall Saturday.
Britain’s Food Stands Authority, a government body tasked with protecting public health and consumer interests, said it was investigating whether any contaminated pork products had been distributed in the UK — a major importer of Irish pigmeat.
“The Food Standards Agency is today advising consumers not to eat pork or pork products, such as sausages, bacon, salami and ham, which are labeled as being from the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland,” it said in a statement.
The Irish government said Saturday that laboratory tests of animal feed and pork fat samples confirmed the presence of dioxins, with toxins at 80 to 200 times the safe limits. Preliminary evidence indicated the problem was likely to have started in September of this year, it added.
Ireland exported €368 million ($467 million) worth of pigmeat in 2007, half of it to Britain, but the FSA said it did “not believe there is significant risk to UK consumers.”
The Irish Association of Pigmeat Processors said the contaminated pig feed came from one supplier and the source had been contained. It said the Irish pork industry had an annual turnover of €500 million ($634.5 million).
RISKS LOW BUT CONSUMERS WORRY
Experts also said the risk to consumers was low. “These compounds take a long time to accumulate in the body, so a relatively short period of exposure would have little impact on the total body burden,” said Professor Alan Boobis, toxicologist at Imperial College London. “One would have to be exposed to high levels for a long period of time before there would be a health risk.”
But consumers and shop and restaurant owners in Dublin were worried. Teresa Moran, 57, a careworker and mother of five, said: “I have two pieces of pork in the freezer and I’m afraid of my life to touch them. I don’t know what we are going to do about the ham for Christmas. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Ireland’s Food Minister Trevor Sargent said that the problem may originate with byproducts of baking that are dried to be used as animal feed. The fuel used in the drying process should be a food-grade oil.
“We do have our suspicions this time that the oil being used was not food grade and therefore may have led to the contamination, which has caused such a crisis throughout the industry but only affecting a small amount of pork.”
Authorities were also investigating samples from 37 beef farms but say the risk of contamination there is minimal as the cattle graze for most of the year on grass.
The Irish government placed restrictions on the movement of animals at the beef farms but not on beef sales or consumption.
The European Commission said Ireland had acted well and quickly in recalling all locally produced pork products.
(Additional reporting by Carmel Crimmins in Dublin and Michael Kahn in London)
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