December 9, 2008

Ireland scrambles to contain pork cancer scare

Irish pork was removed from sale in Europe and Asia Monday (December 8) amid 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Japan, Singapore and South Korea suspended imports from Ireland after Dublin ordered all pig meat products to be withdrawn as cancer-linked chemicals were found in slaughtered pigs thought to have eaten tainted feed.

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.

Irish authorities Saturday ordered a full recall of all pork products made in the country 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 tonnes, worth EUR368 million, sent to international customers last year.

The UK was the biggest customer but exports also went to Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, the US and China.

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".

The country'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 industrial oil.

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

In a brief statement Millstream said it had "always prided itself on exceeding the strict standards of quality and safety."

Company spokesman 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.

He said: "We are very hopeful we will have perfectly safe Irish product back on the shelves for consumers within a matter of days."

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