Irish Pork Contaminated by Pig Feed

Irish pork, ham, bacon and any product containing pork from Ireland are being removed from supermarket shelves following fears that they may contain cancer causing chemicals.

It has been revealed that pigs in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have been given feed contaminated with high levels of dioxins. Dioxins are highly toxic, man-made organic compounds that are bi-products of some industrial processes, waste incineration and are present in everyday pollution such as car exhaust fumes and tobacco smoke. High levels of exposure can cause a range of problems, including cancer.

The problem was first discovered during routine tests and samples of the pork were then sent to the Central Science Laboratory in York where they were found to have up to 200 times the permitted level of dioxins.

The contamination was traced to Millstream Power Recycling Ltd, a Wexford company which recycles food products into pig meal. It is not known how the contaminants got into the feed but the profile of the dioxin discovered in the meat is usually associated with oil contamination and officials are testing the oil used in a machine that dries the feed.

All production at the plant has been stopped but it is thought that forty-seven farms in the south of Ireland and nine in the north have used the product to feed to their pigs.

Medical experts have insisted that there is no risk to human health as the contamination was found quickly and therefore any exposure would be short term.

Professor Boobis, a government adviser and toxicologist at Imperial College, London said “These compounds take a long time to accumulate in the body so a relatively short exposure would have little impact. One would have to be exposed to high levels for a long time before there would be a health risk”.

However, the Food Safety Authority have advised consumers not to eat pork or pork products including sausages, bacon, salami and ham, which is labelled as coming from Northern Ireland or the Irish Republic. Unfortunately, shoppers will find it difficult to identify which foods to avoid. EU rules allow food to be labelled as a product of the last country that processed it, even if that ‘process’ was simply slicing it.

Fortunately, the contamination is believed to have been discovered quickly and immediate action taken to halt production of the contaminated feed and distribution of any contaminated meat products before it presented a serious hazard to health.

Despite assurances that the risk to anyone who has eaten the pork is very slight, this incident will undoubtedly affect consumer confidence and will be a major blow to Ireland’s pig industry, particularly in the run up to Christmas.

This incident has, quite rightly, received a lot of attention from the media but this type of contamination is thankfully a rare occurrence and people are much more likely to fall ill through poor food hygiene and the incorrect storage, preparation and cooking of food which can cause food poisoning.