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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 7, 2008 @ 1:54 pm

    Animal Farm, Irish-style

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    The country went to bed last night and woke up this morning, to a background of news reports that our rashers and sausages were a potential danger to health and well-being. Contaminated meal had been fed to pigs as long ago as September 1st and now we should be throwing out any pork and pork by-products as a precaution.At the same time as telling us to throw the bangers in the bin we were being advised that the danger was no greater than smoking the odd cigarette. But nobody said to throw our ciggies in the garbage.

    When I heard the news last night, I got up out of bed and stuck a note on the fridge-door advising all family-members not to eat the pork-chops, etc., therein. It was only by morning that it became fully clear to me that the stuff should be actually thrown out.

    The question arises as to why it took so long for the warning to be issued. September 1st until now is over three months. We still don’t know the name of the suppliers who provided the allegedly-contaminated pigfeed.

    The samples had to be sent to the UK for testing. After 86 years of independence we cannot even look after ourselves in this life-and-death area.

    Recently it emerged that bottled-water supplies were also contaminated. There was, to put it bluntly, sh*t in the bottles. But this was not made known to the public at the time. And none of the guilty suppliers were named.

    Already there is concern – quite rightly – about the pig-farmers. But very little about the long-suffering consumer. What about people who stocked-up their fridges with ham and pork for Christmas?

    I sure hope nobody is telling “porkies”. Meanwhile, the Joe Duffy programme should be pretty raucous tomorrow.

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    • L Blopster says:

      Sitting in a restaurant on Sunday 7th Dec, bacon and sausages were being served to all around me. When questioned, the waitress said the chef has assured them that ‘all their pork was safe and it was fine to serve it’. That was obviously not the case, considering the recall had been issued and was all over the news that morning.

      There has been virtually no coverage so far of the effect on restaurants or the urgent need for them to stop serving pork products. Is cross-contamination by pork products of other products also a risk?

      We know that this crisis will clearly cause massive damage to the Irish pork industry at a time when the economy needs all the help it can get. We also know that the crisis, like the BSE one before it, has been created by the industrialised system of meat production which again has been exposed as dangerous and slow to respond to problems, while leaving consumers at risk, in this case since September 1st.

      This industrialised agri-business system is at the root of these problems and more food scares will continue to occur, probably with greater risks and greater impact, until the system is completely overhauled.

      The government should move quickly to check that organic meat products are safe and to allow them back on the shelves – it is unlikely that organic meat is affected, as it does not take these kind of risks in production. This disaster is further proof of the need for smaller scale, efficient and lower-risk organic food systems, instead of our current system which routinely exposes consumers to danger, allows problems to continue for months undetected and causes untold damage to the Irish economy and to Ireland’s standing abroad.

    • Betterworld Now says:


      There is yet another side of this that will preoccupy us over the coming months and years – the issue of disposal of the contaminated product.

      The dioxins in these products are stable up to 1200 deg C (according to Wikipedia) and do not break down naturally; they remain carcinogenic indefinitely. They can also be destroyed in a nuclear reactor, or by high level chemical manipulation, once all contaminant has been extracted from the product and purified into its constituent chemical parts. If possible at all, it is unlikely that any of these operations can be done in Ireland and foreign contractors who can do this are likely to charge an exorbitant fee.

      Let’s hope there is room in the still expanding number of freezer warehouses that store the similarly un-process-able Irish mad cow beef to take this year’s output of Irish rashers, sausages and pizzas. By comparison, the Irish “angel-dust” scandal of the 1980s seems like child’s play. And it remains to be seen if overseas customers will be happy to pay for the cost of dealing with our contaminated waste in their own countries. Or will they just ship it back to us at our cost?

      At this rate, the Dept of Agriculture is on course to become the biggest drain on the Irish tax payer, having already exhausted the European tax payers’ patience through the Common Agricultural Policy.

      Isn’t it time our cows ate grass and our pigs ate turnips?

      Enough of this market-led food production, where the cheapest feed and the lowest standards ensure the highest profit; where the worst farmers get the biggest reward and the good guys go bust, where everything is legal until you are caught.

      Let’s just force our farmers to go 100% organic on an all-Ireland basis and be done with it for once and for all. When Cuba did this in the 1990s they found it actually increased yields and improved quality of life for farmers. And the consumer loves the fact that their fresh fruit and vegetables are organic and locally produced. I’ll bet our overseas markets will not only recover but expand on the promise that from now on Irish = 100% organic.

      Didn’t there used to be a political party in Ireland that advocated organic farming? Wonder whatever happened to them?

    • Ray D says:

      There is a nonsense at the heart of all this. While no one can excuse the culprits the requirements are over the top. There appears to be no toxic effects from this low level of exposure. And past incidents such as Seveso and the Ukranian President (where the contamination was infinitely greater) and the lower level Belgium incident seem to suggest so. On the other hand cigarette smoking will damage you severely, yet there is no ban on smoking just a riduculous ban on smoking in public places!!! One may then do more of one’s smoking at home.

      This whole area of risk, quantitative risk and acceptable levels needs to be reexamined urgently.

    • Deaglán says:

      “This disaster is further proof of the need for smaller-scale, efficient and lower-risk organic food systems.” I agree. Having recovered from prostate cancer last year, it is particularly annoying to be put at risk from eating a few lousy bangers!
      “Isn’t it time our cows ate grass and our pigs ate turnips?” Yes, it is. Having been reared ‘down the country’ in a different time, I am surprised (although probably shouldn’t be) to hear what pigs are fed these days.
      “Cigarette smoking will damage you severely, yet there is no ban on smoking just a ridiculous ban on smoking in public places!!!” You’re playing my song. See my blog on this subject: http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/politics/2008/07/19/call-to-ban-cigarettes-makes-sense/#more-15

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      I hear tell that pork tastes a lot like human flesh, I give it no more than a week before cannibalism breaks out.

    • Melinda says:

      And to add to the picture,o n the news is the breaking info-few cattle heads are with the same diagnosis…Just what the hell is going ON this CHristmas, Ireland???

    • Rosemary says:


      Where did you hear that? Are you sure it’s true? What limbs would you say would be the best?

      The poor piggies, the Fab Four have at last been vindicated. It is ridiculous; how much hand-holding can we take, as free citizens? Although this time I’d like if Brian C. would hold my hand all the way to the polls so that I could make the “right” choice about Lisbon while eating my turkey rashers…

    • Ray D says:

      One of the peculiar reactions was that of Patrick Wall, recent head of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, on Q and A last night. He said that, on the question of compensation, he had contacted persons in Brussels (in the pub?) and they raised with him the fact that Ireland had voted no and presumably had their glue as a result of this exercise in democracy.

      It transpires that there is and was no EU aid for this type of incident. So Pat Wall was talking through his hat. Also, so Lisbon was a red herring then? Perhaps not as the Taoiseach is now trying to get a few bob from the EU. It would seem therefore that our Lisbon No has in fact strenghtened our hands considerably in negotiations with the EU. That is what one would logically expect.

    • Deaglán says:

      I still can’t get my head around the conundrum that the risk was apparently very, very low but there still had to be a total shutdown. My colleague Ruadhán MacCormaic has a good piece on this issue at http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/1209/1228571687146.html

    • Ray D says:

      The nonsense continues. Three times the limit (e.g. beef) is okay but 80 to 200 times (pork) is not. But both meats contain what they (the authorities) have called poisonous substances in concentrations that are over the so-called legal limit. These EU limits – like much EU legislation – are nonsense but our beef is also damned now.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      So it seems the government has caused many members of the public to waste perfectly safe meat


      I can understand going public on Saturday but the calls for the meat to be thrown out were too strong in my view. It was noteworthy that the authorities in the North told people to not eat pork but told them to hold off on disposing of it until they knew more. Our lot jumped the gun.

      I took the view that there would be time enough to throw stuff out if the pork was proved to be a real danger and thankfully a few people were able to take my advice. In one case it was a family with nearly €200 worth of bacon products in the freezer. I can’t imagine there are too many who threw stuff out who are very impressed with the authorities handling of this.

    • Deaglán says:

      Can it be that this story is beginning to turn into one of panic and over-reaction by our own authorities? If so, the factory workers who lost their jobs will feel even more bitter. However I understand there was a previous episode in Italy last March where the national authorities were accused of being slow to sound the alarm bell over dioxins in mozzarella and this was seen as very damaging to the cheese industry there.


      It seems Italy is more strict with foodstuffs from outside, as seen in their introduction of “controls” on Irish beef.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglán, I agree with sounding the alarm bells, and by in large I think (based on what I know right now) the Government has acted well in most respects except in the call for meat to be thrown out. There was no need for that, and that was a panic measure which suited no one.

      I wonder if consumers will be asking the state if they can have compensation for the meat they threw out needlessly. On whose advice was that call made? On what basis did they make the call, and what are the consequences for them of making a bad call? Don’t we have performance-related pay in the Department? Why did it occur to the authorities in the North to say, don’t eat it but leave it in the fridge until we know more?

    • Ray D says:

      Truly the nonsense intensifies. The taxpayer is now forking out €180 million for less that a week’s losses (bogus losses?) on product that apparently has an annual value of €360 million!!! Also the EU is paying out compensation for the storage of most of this product to be released subsequently on the market.

      Are we mad? And all because we voted NO.

    • Deaglán says:

      There seems to be a developing consensus that the Government over-reacted. I must say that what shocked me was the sight of all those little piggies crowding together on the killing-farms. It looks so unnatural and, frankly, quite cruel. There is an organic butcher up the road from me who will be getting a lot more of my patronage from now on. I also intend to get in touch more often with my vegetarian side. Organic veg of course.

    • Rosemary says:

      Deaglán, it was the sight of the crowded pigs that did me in as well; and it seems so hypocritical, to only care how the pigs are being killed when we know we can’t eat them afterwards! But yes, I will be rethinking my morning fry-ups for a while, and looking towards organic – but even then there’s no guarantee that the pigs are treated well, unless you go for organic and free-range, and meats under both categories are hard to come by!

    • Deaglán says:

      Not just organic but free-range! The road to clear-conscience eating is indeed a rocky one!

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