Pork Linked to Cancer

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DUBLIN (AFP) - Irish pork was removed from sale in Europe and Asia in Monday amid fears of a cancer link, as Ireland scrambled to find the source of the scare.

Japan, Singapore and South Korea suspended imports from Ireland after Dublin ordered all pig meat products to be withdrawn as cancer-linked chemicals were found in slaughtered pigs thought to have eaten tainted feed.

Irish police joined the investigation into a pig feed company suspected of being behind the contamination, which has caused panic in Ireland at a time when many families would have been buying their traditional Christmas ham.

"We will be assisting as required," a police spokesman told AFP, declining further comment.

Irish authorities on Saturday ordered a full recall of all pork products made in the country after the discovery of dioxins, which in high doses may cause cancer, in slaughtered pigs.

Ireland is a major exporter of pork with 129,000 tonnes, worth 368 million euros (466 million dollars), sent to international customers last year.

Britain was the biggest customer but exports also went to Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, the United States and China.

The pig feedstuff firm at the centre of the investigation, Millstream Recycle, vowed to work with authorities "to ensure that any product sold to the pig industry in recent weeks is identified and recalled".

The country's chief veterinary officer Paddy Rogan said investigators were also checking other facilities but Millstream Recycle "is the one that is most under our microscope at this time."

Rogan said it was believed the contamination was connected with an industrial oil.

He told RTE that laboratory tests had shown that the type of dioxins were "consistent with this type of industrial waste oil type similar to that found in other (EU) member states and in other such incidents."

In a brief statement Millstream said it had "always prided itself on exceeding the strict standards of quality and safety."

Company spokesman David Curtin denied that any oil or other substance had been added to the feedstuff during the processing.

He said what was under investigation was oil used to power machinery to dry the recycled bread products and dough used to make the pig feed.

Rogan said nine pig producer operations in the Irish Republic had been sealed off, as well as 38 beef farms that also received the contaminated feed.

The contamination risk for beef is however considered low, as cattle mainly eat grass.

He said: "We have been in discussion with various groups including the large retailers and with the pig meat processing sector.

"In terms of getting product back on the shelves, we are very hopeful we will have perfectly safe Irish product back on the shelves for consumers within a matter of days."

The crisis is another blow to recession-hit Ireland, where about 5,000 people are employed in the pig meat industry.

The nine operations involved produce about 10 percent of the country's pigs. Rogan said the republic's other 490 pig farms were totally outside the contamination scare.

Dioxins are toxic chemicals that can have serious health effects, including causing cancers, if there is long-term exposure to them at high levels.

Food Safety Authority of Ireland deputy chief executive Alan Reilly said dioxin levels found in meat samples were between 80 and 200 times above the legal limit but stressed the risk to the public was "very, very low".

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