Monday, December 08, 2008

Irish pork off the Christmas list


Consumers are being told to dispose of any pork products from Ireland after they were found to contain high levels of dioxin. It’s an industry worth £394 million, according to the Food & Drink Industry of Ireland, and the financial impact will be strongly felt across the agricultural industry. The crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time. As Christmas approaches farmers and retailers were hoping to cash in at a time of economic gloom.

At least nine premises in Northern Ireland and 47 in the Irish Republic have been linked to the contaminated meat after being supplied with feed said to be contaminated with dioxin. The pig feed being linked to the contamination is thought to have been feed tainted with oil from a County Carlow firm which recycles food in pig meal. Millstream Power Recycling Limited said it was investigating how the firm's "strict health and safety procedures...could possibly have been breached" [BBC].

China has constantly been in the news over the last few months over contaminated milk, eggs and meat. But this latest food scandal, which strikes at the heart of the European meat industry, will set alarm bells ringing. The EU have only issued a short statement so far saying they are “very concerned about the situation”.

Dioxin is often produced by combustion such as in forest fires and industrial processes. Although people are exposed to dioxins daily, from cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes and bonfires, high levels can be dangerous. There is evidence that dioxins can cause cancer along with other effects on the immune system. In European regulation, dioxins, along with other potentially harmful chemicals called Furans and dioxin-like PCBs [Polychlorinated biphenyl], are reported as a single value known as the total Toxic Equivalent (TEQ). There are 29 chemicals of concern in this class. However the Food Standards Agency says it is awaiting detailed data to show how much of each chemical there is in the contaminated pork.

The reporting of the food scare dropped off the news agenda for national broadcasters though it remained the top story in Northern Ireland on the BBC’s local news programme Newsline. But for the some 5,000 Irish farmers, butchers and other meat industry workers the story remains at the forefront of their minds, with many hoping for an ‘all clear’ from the Food Standards Agency before Christmas, which is a little over two weeks away.

1 comment:

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