Ireland's food crisis spreads to beef

Source of Article:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/feedarticle/8135665

  • Reuters, Tuesday December 9 2008

By Carmel Crimmins

DUBLIN, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Three cattle herds in Ireland were contaminated with dioxins, authorities said on Tuesday, dragging the country's crucial beef industry into a scandal that has already sparked an international recall of Irish pork products.

 

One of the world's top five beef exporters said there was no need to recall any Irish beef products because the level and extent of contamination in the affected animals was much lower than the levels discovered at 10 pig farms.

 

"This is not a public health issue," Farm Minister Brendan Smith told a news conference. "I'm pleased and relieved with these results."

 

But the discovery will further undermine Ireland's reputation as a supplier of wholesome foods, particularly in Europe, where Ireland is the biggest supplier of imported beef.

 

The European Commission said EU food safety regulators were satisfied with Ireland's reaction to the cattle issue so far.

 

Government officials said tests were being carried out on 34 more cattle herds. They identified a total of 45 herds that had been exposed to dioxins. If the tests come back within acceptable limits those animals will be released into the food chain.

 

Feed contaminated with dioxins was also fed to some cattle in the British province of Northern Ireland, Britain's food safety watchdog, the Food Standards Agency, said on Tuesday.

 

The FSA said it was awaiting the results of tests to determine the levels of contamination, if any, which may be present in the Northern Irish herds.

 

Tainted feed was also sent to nine pig farms in Northern Ireland and an EU official said that Britain must tell EU food safety regulators by the end of Tuesday what it will do about pork coming from those farms.

 

Earlier this week, more than 20 countries cleared their shelves of Irish pork after 80-200 times the legal level of dioxin was found in some pig farms.

 

In some forms and with long exposure, dioxin can cause cancer and fertility problems.

 

"In the case of the beef, the levels were two to three times the legal limit," Alan Reilly, chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, told reporters.

 

"For these things to be a risk, it has to be long-term exposure and the exposure here is very short term."

 

The number of cattle from the three herds account for 0.08 percent of total annual production and will be removed from the food chain, Reilly said.

 

"The industry's priority now is to communicate this positive message to customers of Irish beef at home and internationally," said Cormac Healy, director of Meat Industry Ireland.

 

Cattle and beef account for more than one-quarter of Ireland's total agricultural output, according to trade body Food and Drink Industry Ireland.

 

PRAYING FOR PROGRESS

 

But while Ireland's beef farmers breathed a sigh of relief, pig producers and processors were struggling with a major financial crisis.

 

"This should be our busiest week of the year for getting hams into the factories for the Christmas market and that's a real concern. If we lose that ham market it's a major loss," said Michael Maguire, a pig farmer from County Cavan.

 

A backlog of 26,000 pigs had built up at farms, putting a strain on farmers, Maguire said. Pork producers are seeking emergency aid to help foot a bill of at least 100 million euros ($128.7 million).

 

"We are keeping our fingers crossed and praying to all the gods that we know that we will have some progress on this by this evening," said Maguire, who normally sell 400 pigs a week.

 

"We are hoping that the processors will indicate that they will be open for business, hopefully tomorrow and Thursday at the latest."

 

Pig processors have refused to reopen their slaughterhouses until they get compensation for the loss of trade. Talks with the government resumed on Tuesday and farmers are hoping production will resume this week.

 

Nearly 1,400 employees had been laid off from processing plants and up to 6,000 jobs were at risk, the SIPTU trade union said.

 

"As long as the industry is shut down the losses are escalating every day," Padraig Walsh, president of the Irish Farmers' Association, said.

 

The European Commission said contaminated Irish pork had been shipped to 21 countries and territories, including Britain, France and Germany within the EU, and Japan, Russia, China and the United States outside the trading bloc. (Reporting by Carmel Crimmins; editing by Karen Foster)

 

 

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