DUBLIN, December 8 – Contaminated Irish pork may have been exported to up to 25 countries, Ireland’s chief vet has said, as shops at home and abroad cleared pork from their shelves amid fears of a cancer link.,
"We believe it’s in the order of 20 to 25 countries. It’s certainly less than 30," Paddy Rogan said on Sunday in comments quoted by the Irish media.
His remarks came after ministers Saturday ordered all pig meat products from the Republic of Ireland to be withdrawn as dioxins, which may cause cancer, were found in slaughtered pigs thought to have eaten contaminated feed.
The recall involved products processed since September 1 and has caused panic in the Emerald Isle, where many families would have been buying their traditional Christmas ham in the coming days.
Ireland is a major exporter of pork, with Britain by far the biggest market followed by Germany, France, Russia and Japan. Other major export destinations include China and Hong Kong.
Officials and police are investigating the possible source of the contaminated feed, a plant run by Millstream Power Recycling Limited near Fenagh, County Carlow in southwest Ireland.
David Curtin, a firm spokesman, said what was under investigation was oil used in machinery used to dry the recycled bread products and dough which are ingredients in the feed.
He denied that any oil or other substance had been added to the feed during processing.
On Monday, Japan said it had suspended imports of pork from Ireland after the discovery.
"We are currently suspending imports as a precaution," said Mitsue Kondo, a food safety official at the Japanese health ministry.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen stepped in to try and calm the situation, saying it was important his government took "whatever measures are necessary" to build confidence in the industry for the future.
"The problem has been located. The continuing examination and inquiries will proceed and we must take action to reinforce confidence to the public, and obviously also allow the industry to move on from this point," Cowen said.
The crisis is another blow to recession-hit Ireland, where about 5,000 people work in a pig meat industry which exported 129,000 tonnes worth 368 million euros (468 million dollars) in 2007, according to official figures.
Irish people are being told not to eat domestically-reared pork meat, bacon, pork sausages, sausage meat, gammon steaks, offal from pigs, salami, ham, sausage rolls, black pudding and white pudding.
Supermarket shelves have been cleared of Irish pork products while stockists in Britain, like retailer Waitrose, have also pulled them as officials advise consumers not to eat Irish or Northern Irish pork.
Germany said it was taking all Irish pork products off the shelves as a precautionary measure, while contaminated Irish pork has been found in France and Belgium.
Swedish authorities have also advised consumers to avoid products containing Irish pork until further notice.
The European Commission announced it was closely monitoring the situation, saying experts from countries that may have received tainted pork shipments would meet Tuesday.
Dioxins are toxic chemicals that can have serious health effects, including causing cancers, if there is long-term exposure to them at high levels.
Food Safety Authority of Ireland deputy chief executive Alan Reilly said dioxin levels found in meat samples were between 80 and 200 times above the legal limit but stressed the risk to the public was "very, very low".
"You would have to be eating products containing these chemicals for 40 years before you would show any signs of illness," he said.
Padraig Walshe, president of the Irish Farmers’ Association, said the recall was an "absolute disaster" in the run-up to Christmas, adding the contamination could cost Irish farmers hundreds of millions of euros.
"It is going to be very difficult for the industry to get itself re-established and get customers to buy output again," Walshe told state broadcaster RTE. "It is a huge blow to the industry."
The contaminated feed was supplied to 10 Irish farms which supply roughly 10 percent of Ireland’s pigs.
Nine farms in Northern Ireland have also used the contaminated feed.
The British province’s Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew said restrictions had been placed on the farms.
"There is obviously a large amount of north-south movement of these products in Ireland and we need to carefully consider the way ahead," she added.