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Dioxin Exposure No Cause for Concern

by 5m Editor
9 December 2008, at 8:03am

IRELAND - The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) stated its opinion that the data in relation to health risks for people exposed to dioxins does not provide cause for concern.


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"After a very difficult number of days for the pork and bacon industry, we have now had a very positive meeting with the Food Standards Agency. Based on the information to hand, it appears that all the premises in Northern Ireland associated with contaminated feed have now been traced and put under restriction. We now expect that the go-ahead can be given to the rest of the farming industry to return to normality and re-commence supplying produce to the Christmas market, hopefully as early as tomorrow, Tuesday. This will be very good news for farmers who were very concerned about their livelihoods."
Graham Furey, UFU President

Its view, based on an assessment of international and national data, continues to be that a short term peak exposure to dioxins and PCBs does not result in adverse health effects.

The FSAI states that scientific data and evidence does not support concerns on health effects to people exposed to dioxins at a high level over a short period of time, such as the Belgian Dioxin incident. The FSAI confirms that, as part of its wide ranging deliberations on this aspect, its scientific experts have also 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.

According to Mr Alan Reilly, Deputy Chief Executive, FSAI, data used to assess any health risk involves reviewing evidence that is available on incidents and exposure internationally. He stated that a number of factors mitigate and reduce the potential for any health risk in relation to this recall. He maintains that people should not be alarmed or concerned in relation to the potential risks from dioxins found in pork and bacon products.

“Firstly, the dioxins in relation to the pork and bacon recall would have been concentrated primarily in the fat element of the product – pork is considered a healthy lean meat product and only the visible fat element of the product would have potentially contained any contamination. Add this to the fact that only 10% of the product is suspected as being affected on the market and this reduces the potential exposure. Putting all this into perspective with the evidence of long term exposure information we have, there is a low level risk of ill health – and that means for today, tomorrow or 10, 20 years from now. There is no scientific robust evidence to support any other viewpoint in our opinion.”

The FSAI stated that there is nothing that stands out as concerning in relation to data from populations where there was a high exposure over a short period of time to dioxins such as in the case of the Seveso plant explosion in Italy in 1976. These people have been closely monitored for the last 30 years and the data here continues to show no significant evidence and there is nothing emerging in terms of adverse health implications.

“We know there was high exposure over short periods in Seveso and there is no data of real significance showing up in that population to indicate effects. Similar data in relation to the Belgium incident in 1999, which is somewhat similar to our pork incident is available. The Belgian population have been closely monitored for almost 10 years for signs of health effects in relation to their exposure to dioxins and again nothing of significance has shown up in health screenings,” continues Mr Reilly.

“This is very reassuring – effects have been researched in populations exposed for long periods to relatively low levels and high levels over short periods of time and it could be expected that there might be some effects – but there is no major indicators emerging. The body does deal with low levels of dioxin – it removes them itself over a period of time. Bearing in mind all the factors and data, the FSAI’s view even in any worst case scenario where someone may have been exposed to a lot of contaminated pork, the possibility for an ill health effect is very low. It is highly unlikely anyone in Ireland was continually exposed to large amounts of this pork given the pattern of pig production in Ireland,” concludes Mr Reilly.

Australian Consumers Show No Concern

The peak industry body for Australia’s pork producers, Australian Pork Limited (APL), said yesterday that the recall of Irish pork products poses no threat to the local industry or Australian consumers.

APL General Manager Marketing Peter Haydon said that Australia does not import any pork from Ireland.

“The Irish industry is a very small one and the cost of transporting their pork all this way would be unprofitable. However, this is a timely reminder to all consumers that all fresh pork is Australian and therefore from a safe source.

“Australian consumers can be reassured that Australia’s pork industry has robust product traceability and quality assurance programs in place to counter incidents like this. These programs ensure consumers receive Australian grown pork that is wholesome and safe to eat.”

Mr Haydon said identifying Australian pork can be done by knowing that all fresh pork is definitely Australian grown and looking for the following labels; Product of Australia, the pink “Australian Pork “ logo in Coles supermarkets and the “Australian Grown “logo in Woolworths retail outlets. And most importantly when deciding to buy your ham for Christmas ensure you buy ham on the bone, as that is definitely Aussie grown.

FSA Reiterates Advice on Irish Pork

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has reiterated its advice on Irish pork products as a result of ongoing investigations.

The FSA is currently advising consumers not to eat pork, or products where pork is the main ingredient, that are labelled as being from the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland. This includes food such as sausages, bacon, salami and ham.

Following further enquiries by the Food Safety Authority Ireland (FSAI), it has been confirmed only ten pig farms in the Republic of Ireland were supplied with feed contaminated with dioxins. Pigs from these farms have been supplied to four processors.

Dr Andrew Wadge, FSA Chief Scientist, said: 'The risk to UK consumers is very low. This is because you would need to eat large quantities of the chemical over a long period of time for there to be any risk to your health.'

The FSA is currently advising:

  • retailers and caterers to remove from sale pork products manufactured from 1 September 2008 in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
  • manufacturers not to use pork from products manufactured from 1 September 2008 in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

However, if shops and caterers can demonstrate their product is not affected by this incident, it can be sold.

The Agency is continuing to monitor the situation and is working closely with the relevant authorities in the Republic of Ireland.

UFU Optimistic about Return to Normal Trading

Following an industry meeting with the Food Standards Agency, the Ulster Farmers’ Union says it is very optimistic that the local pork and bacon industry can return to normal trading as early as today.

Speaking after the meeting at FSA Headquarters in Belfast, UFU President Graham Furey said; “After a very difficult number of days for the pork and bacon industry, we have now had a very positive meeting with the Food Standards Agency. Based on the information to hand, it appears that all the premises in Northern Ireland associated with contaminated feed have now been traced and put under restriction. We now expect that the go-ahead can be given to the rest of the farming industry to return to normality and re-commence supplying produce to the Christmas market, hopefully as early as tomorrow, Tuesday. This will be very good news for farmers who were very concerned about their livelihoods”.

Mr Furey said the Union would continue to monitor developments on behalf of farmers. He said; “We had two priorities throughout this situation, firstly to ensure consumers could be certain that everything possible was being done on their behalf to protect public health; and secondly to return the industry to normal trading conditions as quickly as possible. The conditions have now been created to see the industry re-open for business”.

Further Reading

- You can view our feature on the Irish dioxin incident by clicking here.
- Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.