Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Food Safety Memo: Dioxin Contamination Spreads From Pork to Beef in Ireland; Food Safety Deja Vu All Over Again on the Emerald Isle

A sign in a supermarket meat case in Ireland informs shoppers there will be no pork sold until further notice. The Irish government is today telling supermarkets it's OK to sell fresh pork products again, and telling consumers it's fine to eat Irish pork. But will they 'bite' right away? {Photo credit: Telegraph - UK.]

It's food safety crisis deja vu all over again for Ireland's hog, cattle and dairy farmers, its food processing and retailing industry, and for government and consumers.

In the 1990's Ireland went through a serious food safety issue over BSE in cattle, the deadly brain disease that has implications for human health if enough meat from such infected cattle is consumed.

In March 1996, Ireland's health minister, Steven Dorrell, announced to the country in a press conference from the aisle of an Irish supermarket that cattle produced in the nation may not be safe to eat because of BSE. This announcement sent shockwaves through the farming and food industry, and among consumers, in Ireland, a country that prides itself on producing and consuming most of its own cattle and hogs for national consumption as well as for export, mostly throughout Europe, but also globally including to Asia.

Ireland's BSE scare was a long one. It changed how that nation viewed and handled food safety, including leading to the establishment of new national food safety regulations and regulatory agencies.

But 12 years later it appears the lessons learned and policies created from the 1990's BSE food safety incident weren't enough to prevent another food safety problem.

Last Saturday, it was announced by Ireland's government that it had found significant levels of dioxin in animal feed at farms in Northern Ireland, most particularly in feed fed to hogs. It wasn't until 24 hours later though, late on Sunday, that the government took action, clearing all of the fresh pork products off the shelves in every supermarket, food store and butcher shop in the country.

Now today, it appears the dioxin contamination not only has been found in pork, but also in beef, as the contaminated animal feed looks to have been fed to cattle in Northern Ireland as well as to hogs.

The government is saying it's safe to eat Irish pork and beef from the region, and safe to drink milk from cows in Northern Ireland, despite the contaminated feed. However, among retailers and consumers in Ireland, and in countries where Irish meat is exported to, that assurance isn't being translated into sales (or consumer purchases) of the meat, nor do many feel assured by the government's safety pronouncements right now.

The issue is heating up in the Irish and United Kingdom media. Many questions are being asked by reporters, retailers and consumers. Below is a sampling of stories on the latest food safety problem in Ireland -- and in the world.

BBC News: Beef and milk 'safe to consume'... Belfast Telegraph: Milk supplies restricted amid animal feed scare... Government of Ireland press release: No recall action after dioxins found in Irish beef - Summary... European Union statement: EU blames recycled food plant for Irish pork contamination... Lurgan Today: Beef safe, minister insists... AFP: Irish food scare spreads to cattle... Guardian - UK: Ireland's food crisis spreads to beef... Telegraph - UK: Irish beef contaminated with same chemical as pork...

Belfast Telegraph: Beef contamination threat at eight Northern Ireland farms... Irish Times: Farmers urge consumers to continue buying beef... The Local - Sweden: Tainted Irish meat delivered to Swedish schools...Guardian - UK: EU tells UK to explain its tainted pig-feed problem... The Irish Independent: I will continue to eat pork... Yorkshire Post: Supermarkets move to reassure customers over pork scare...UK retailers strive to identify contaminated Irish pork products... Talking Retail - UK: Tesco still selling Irish pork after dioxin scare... Retailers warned over Irish pork...

Ansa News: Contaminated pork risk low in Italy... Manx Radio - UK: Producer says 'think local', after scare... Irish Herald: Food scare will be with us for years... but still no one quits... Belfast Telegraph: NI pork industry given all-clear in dioxin scare... Belfast Telegraph: China becomes latest country to ban Irish pork.

Ireland's pork (and now beef) food safety crisis coming just a couple weeks before the Christmas holiday, a holiday in which pork and beef play a major role, is something sure not to please food retailers and consumers alike.

Pork and beef are popular in Ireland for holiday tables in a variety of forms, ranging from cocktail sausages and links for party appetizers, to hams and roasts for dinner entrees.

Despite the all is clear given by Irish authorities in terms of the safety of the meat, we have a feeling more Irish households than would normally be the case might just be having a bird as their holiday dinner entree rather than a center-of-the-plate crown beef or pork roast this year.

The issue is global as well, since Ireland exports fresh meats outside of its borders, particularly its prized Irish pork. Many countries have already banned Irish pork, including Sweden and China.

Once again, globally we are seeing another food safety crisis. The stakes are getting higher for some sort of global meeting on the food safety and security issue we believe. This must include emerging countries like China, which needs to dramatically improve its food safety system and laws.

And as the Irish meat issue demonstrates, along with the numerous food safety issues in recent years in the U.S., food safety problems aren't limited to emerging countries like China. Instead they also are a problem for developed western nations and economies.

Because the world will continue to get smaller (global trade) and flatter (more global trade) we believe unless the food safety and security issue is addressed on a global basis as well as nationally by the countries of the world, it will continue to grow, and continue to get worse overall.

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