Efforts to contain pork cancer scare

Time of article published Dec 8, 2008

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Dublin - Irish pork was removed from sale in Europe and Asia on Monday due to fears of a cancer link, as Ireland scrambled to find the source of the scare.

Japan, Singapore and South Korea suspended imports from Ireland after Dublin ordered all pig meat products made since 1 September to be withdrawn as dioxins were found in slaughtered pigs thought to have eaten tainted feed.

The European Commission said 12 countries in the European Union and nine others may have received contaminated meat, but said it would not impose a blanket ban on Irish pork exports.

Irish police joined the investigation into a pig feed company suspected of being behind the contamination, which has caused panic in Ireland at a time when many families would have been buying their traditional Christmas ham.

"We will be assisting as required," a police spokesperson said, declining further comment.

Irish authorities meanwhile were preparing to slaughter up to 100 000 pigs from the farms affected.

Ireland sounded the alarm on Saturday, ordering a full recall of all pork products after the discovery of dioxins - which in high doses may cause cancer - in slaughtered pigs.

Ireland is a major exporter of pork with 129 000 tons, worth 368-million euros (US$466-million), sent to international customers last year.

European Agriculture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said the EU's 27 member states should remove pork products from Ireland from sale and carry out tests.

She said in Brussels that potentially contanimated meat may have been sent to Belgium, Britain, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Sweden within the EU.

Tainted meat may also have been sent to non-EU members Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States.

Vassiliou said that food safety experts from the affected EU countries would meet on Monday and that contacts would be made with the other countries' representatives.

Further meetings were scheduled for Wednesday and Friday to discuss the situation.

"The commission is following very closely this contamination incident to ensure public health protection," Vassiliou said, describing the Irish action as "satisfactory".

"We don't feel at present we need to take further action," she added.

The pig feedstuff firm at the centre of the investigation, Millstream Recycle, vowed to work with authorities "to ensure that any product sold to the pig industry in recent weeks is identified and recalled".

Ireland's chief veterinary officer Paddy Rogan said investigators were also checking other facilities but Millstream Recycle "is the one that is most under our microscope at this time".

Rogan said it was believed the contamination was connected with an industrial oil.

He told RTE that laboratory tests had shown that the type of dioxins were "consistent with this type of industrial waste oil similar to that found in other (EU) member states and in other such incidents".

Millstream spokesperson David Curtin denied that any oil or other substance had been added to the feedstuff during the processing.

He said what was under investigation was oil used to power machinery to dry the recycled bread products and dough used to make the pig feed.

Rogan said nine pig producer operations in the Irish Republic had been sealed off, as well as 38 beef farms that also received the contaminated feed.

The contamination risk for beef is however considered low, as cattle mainly eat grass.

Nine pig farms in neighbouring Northern Ireland had also received the feed, authorities there said.

Rogan said: "In terms of getting product back on the shelves, we are very hopeful we will have perfectly safe Irish products back on the shelves for consumers within a matter of days."

The crisis is another blow to recession-hit Ireland, where about 5 000 people are employed in the pig meat industry.

The nine operations involved produce about 10 percent of the country's pigs.

Rogan said the republic's other 490 pig farms were totally outside the contamination scare. - Sapa-AFP

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