Why have all Irish pork and bacon products been recalled from the market?
Irish produced pigmeat has recently tested positive for the presence of dioxins. It is estimated that approximately 10% of pigmeat from the Republic of Ireland is affected by the current contamination with dioxins. However, as all Irish pigs are slaughtered and processed in a small number of processing plants, it has not been possible to distinguish between potentially contaminated and non-contaminated product. Therefore, as a precautionary measure all pork products originating from the Irish Republic have been recalled.
What has the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said about the recall?
EFSA issued an opinion on 10 December stating that following its risk assessment there was no risk to health for anyone who had consumed potentially contaminated pork products in the three months prior to the recall of all Irish pork products. This reaffirms the action taken by the FSAI which limited further exposure to pork products contaminated with dioxins.
EFSA was able to make this health statement because it could restrict the exposure period to 90 days due to the recall initiated by the Irish authorities. If the recall had not happened, exposure would have been over a longer period and the health assessment by EFSA might have been very different.
See EFSA Opinion
How were the dioxins found?
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) discovered the presence of marker PCBs, indicative of dioxin contamination, in pork fat during routine monitoring of the food chain for a range of contaminants. Samples were sent to a laboratory in the UK for further analysis to determine if there were dioxins present. Results (received on Saturday 6 December) have confirmed that dioxins were present in the samples.
Products from the 1 September are being recalled. Has the FSAI known about this contamination since then?
The FSAI was informed recently by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of a problem with PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) contamination in pigmeat. Since then the Dutch authorities notified us that they had observed high dioxin levels in pork fat in mid-September. Therefore, a date of 1 September was chosen as a precautionary date for the recall.
See information on dioxin recall timeline for further details.
How would I know that the pork product originates from the Irish Republic?
Products of animal origin must have an identification mark and the country abbreviation for products originating in the Irish Republic is ‘IE’.
This should be located on an oval mark on the label of the product with the plant number and the abbreviation ‘EC’ for the European Community.
Is any routine sampling carried out or was this found by accident?
The FSAI, in collaboration with its official agencies, carries out regular checks on levels of dioxins and PCBs in the food chain. Previously, the results of these checks have shown that the levels in Irish food are generally low compared with other industrialised countries.
Approximately 70 samples of pig fat are analysed for PCBs annually by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as part of the national Residue Monitoring Programme.
Are other meat products affected?
Preliminary tests have shown the presence of marker PCBs (not dioxins) in a number of beef samples tested. There is considered to be no public health concern in relation to beef. Beef and beef products are not being recalled. All animals in herds shown to be above the proposed legal limit will be taken out of the food chain and any products from these herds will not be released onto the market.
How has FSAI assessed the risk?
As part of deliberations by the FSAI on this aspect, its scientific experts have consulted widely with scientific experts in the European Food Safety Authority; the World Health Organization as well as with counterpart health risk assessors in the Food Standards Agency (UK). In addition, Department of Health & Children has been in consultation with the Belgian authorities regarding their continued population health monitoring since their dioxin incident in 1999.
What about traceability?
All food and animal feed businesses are required to establish and implement food traceability systems which are compliant with current legislation. It is a legal requirement to have a system or set of procedures that allows food businesses to trace one step forward and one step back. This means that food businesses know who supplied them and where their product has gone. However, there is no legal requirement for food businesses to have traceability systems which can trace raw materials through the factory and into finished product (i.e. Process Traceability). So it is not a legal requirement for pork factories to be able to identify exactly which pork carcass from a particular farm went into each batch of finished pork product.
Pig slaughter plants in Ireland comply with these legal traceability requirements under the supervision of DAFF. However, given the nature of the slaughter and cutting process it is unlikely that these processors would have been able to introduce additional traceability systems to those required by law. Therefore, most pork processors cannot identify exactly which farm produced the pigs that resulted in the pork cuts distributed from the factory. This necessitated a complete recall.
See a simplified process flow on how traceability works in relation to pigmeat production
Does this include product from Northern Ireland as well as the Republic?
This recall just includes pork and bacon from the Republic of Ireland. On Tuesday 9 December, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), UK, issued a food alert, where all pork meat and pork products originating from the Republic of Ireland should be withdrawn from the distribution chain in Northern Ireland. See FSA website. Pork and bacon produced in Northern Ireland is not implicated in the FSA alert.
Has any Irish pork been exported?
The FSAI is aware (as of 10 December) that Irish pork has been distributed to the following countries:
- United Kingdom
- China-Hong Kong
- United States
When will pork be back on the market?
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has stated that the necessary controls are now in place to enable the restoration of supplies of Irish pork and bacon products. In addition, the European Commission has ruled on conditions that must be met for product to be placed on the market. This includes rules for composite products like pizza and ready meals that have pork ingredients. The FSAI and its official agencies are currently working with the retail sector and producers in relation to resumption of product supply.
See press release from Minister
How will I know that the product that is back on the market is safe?
Pork products appearing back on the market will have been certified by Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) and Local Authority Veterinary Inspectors. The majority of these products will carry a Bord Bia label which will confirm that they are safe to eat and have not been associated with the potentially contaminated feed. Food business operators placing products on the market which do not carry this label must have documentation to show that this product has been certified as being safe for consumption. These products may include imported pork products, organic pork products, pork products which did not come from affected processing plants or pork products produced prior to 1 September 2008.
Composite products, like pizza and ready meals containing pork ingredients, will be allowed back on the market provided that they contain less than 20% Irish pork meat and fat combined.
Last reviewed: 3/4/2009