Tainted Irish pork may have reached 25 nations

By Andras Gergely and Kate Kelland

DUBLIN/LONDON (Reuters) - Irish pig meat contaminated with toxic dioxins could have been exported to as many as 25 countries, Ireland’s Chief Veterinary Office said on Sunday.

The Irish government has recalled 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.

Neighboring Britain, the main export market, has warned consumers not to eat any Irish pork products after tests revealed the contamination.

“We believe it’s in the order of 20-25 countries. It’s certainly less than 30,” Chief Veterinary Officer Paddy Rogan told a news conference, speaking about how many countries could be affected.

Authorities said 10 farms in Ireland and a further 9 farms in the British province of Northern Ireland had used a contaminated pig feed that prompted Dublin to announce the recall on 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.

British supermarket group Asda, owned by U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart, said it was pulling all Irish pork products from its shelves.

RISKS LOW, CONSUMERS WORRY

The Irish government said on Saturday that laboratory tests of animal feed and pork fat samples confirmed the presence of dioxins, with toxins at 80-200 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 euros ($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 euros ($634.5 million).

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.”  Continued…

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