Last Updated: Monday, December 8, 2008, 17:08

EPA investigates oil used at Carlow [Ireland] pigfeed plant



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The plant at the centre of the investigation into the source of contaminated pork products which recycled food produce for pig feed was using oil that was "inappropriate" for the process, it has emerged.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting an investigation into the use of the oil at the Millstream Recycling plant in Clohamon Mills, Co Carlow, a joint press conference by the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority heard this afternoon.

The oil used at the plant was of a type that should not have been used for such a process and the particular oil being used by the plant would have required a licence from the Environmental Protection Agency, which it did not have.

Officials from the Department of Agriculture said the oil was "absolutely not" added to the pig feed, but it appeared it had been used in the process of generating heat for the processing of the human food produce to turn it into pigfeed. It was believed the pigfeed somehow became contaminated with potentially dangerous dioxins during this process.

The plant had undergone routine inspection by the Department for Agriculture in 2006 and 2007 and was due for another inspection in either late November or early December of this year.

The type of plant involved was considered “low risk” for such a problem, because it was involved in taking food produce and putting it through a "fairly simple process" to make pig feed, Department official Dermot Ryan said.

He said the Department conducted about 2,200 inspections every year, right through the feed chain. He said some 7,000 analyses were carried out on about 7,000 samples. The European Commission had also audited the Department's inspection process - most recently last May - and had given it "what we would consider to be a clean bill of health", he said.

The press conference heard, however, that routine tests for dioxins are not carried out on every sample taken at farms and other locations, because they cost about €1,000 each. The State laboratory in Dublin should be equipped to carry out such tests by next February so that they don't have to be sent abroad, Alan Ryder of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said.

The State's chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the potential risk to human health from any contamination caused by the oil was "extremely small".

An estimated 100,000 pigs will have to be destroyed because of the pigmeat crisis which has led to the recall of all Irish pork products in Ireland’s largest food scare since BSE.

The public have been told to dump or return all pork products which they purchased since September 1st last because of the risk of dioxin contamination.

The recall followed the discovery of potentially dangerous dioxins, known as PCBs, in pigmeat. The dioxins were contained in feed supplied from the Millstream plant.

Stale bread, out-of-date biscuits, chocolate and dough from feed plants are heated and turned into food for animals and it was during this process at Millstream that it is believed the feed was contaminated.

Experts working on the case suspect fumes from the drier may have caused the problems.

In a statement yesterday, the company confirmed it had been working with the Department of Agriculture and Food officials to identify the source of PCBs found in pig meal in a number of farms in Ireland.

“Accepting the need for a recall, Millstream will be carrying out a full investigation to establish how the company’s strict health and safety procedures and the high quality standards could possibly have been breached,” said the statement.

“In the meantime, Millstream will continue to work with the Department of Agriculture and Food to ensure that any product sold to the pig industry in recent weeks is identified and recalled,” it added.

As the Government moved to ease the fears of consumers, investigations were continuing at ten pig farms and 38 beef farms in the Republic. The contamination is likely to have a severe impact on the €7 billion Irish food industry.

Contaminated feed from the Co Carlow facility had also been supplied to nine farms in Northern Ireland which now have been restricted.

The investigation has found contaminated pork with dioxin levels of 80 to 200 times above the safety limits. It is being led by the Departments of Agriculture and Health, and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI). The Garda is also involved.

The FSAI has advised to consumers not to eat any pork products. But it said people should not be alarmed or concerned in relation to the potential risks from short-term exposure to dioxins found in pork products.

The recall led to almost 2,000 calls to the FSAI helpline yesterday. Queues formed at supermarkets as shoppers returned products for which the Government said they should receive a refund.

The National Consumer Agency (NCA) said consumers were entitled to be refunded. NCA chief executive Ann Fitzgerald said: “Under legislation consumers are entitled to repair, replacement or refund of a faulty product. In the case of pork meat or other food products containing pork, consumers are entitled to a refund as a repair or replacement does not apply in this instance."

The Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association called on the Government to provide an emergency compensation package so that retailers and suppliers would not be left out of pocket.



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