Drive starts to win back markets for Irish pork


PLANTS REOPEN:AS THE six main pig processing plants reopened their killing lines yesterday and Irish pork was being put back on supermarket shelves, a drive began to win back lost markets at home and abroad.

Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith flew to Paris yesterday to attend Bord Bia's annual Christmas trade party to meet French buyers and agents and reassure them of the integrity of Irish food, not just pork but beef as well.

Large-scale slaughtering resumed yesterday following agreement between the Government and processors on a €180 million compensation package for the industry.

Processors had suffered a major financial setback after the discovery of dioxin-like PCBs in pigmeat led to the withdrawal at the weekend of all Irish pork products.

Mr Smith took his decision to fly to Paris on Wednesday night after widespread French media coverage of the dioxin scare began taking a toll on Ireland's substantial beef trade with France and two major retailers threatened to delist Irish food.

Head of Bord Bia in France Noreen Lanigan said it provided an ideal opportunity for the Minister to reassure the French clients of Irish food suppliers.

"From our perspective, it's important that the trade believe in our food security measures," she said.

Ms Lanigan thought it likely that France would lift a warning on Irish pork, which is used only in French charcuterie and ready meals, after a favourable report by the European Food Safety Authority on Wednesday.

Ms Lanigan said test results were so far available for only 11 of 45 Irish beef farms that may have been exposed to dioxin-laced feed, "so the issue hasn't gone away".

Chief veterinary officer of the Department of Agriculture Paddy Rogan said samples taken from all the remaining beef herds which are restricted are now in the laboratory system, and it was anticipated results would be available tomorrow.

"The disposition of the herds involved will be based on the outcome of the lab findings.

"In respect of the earlier samples, which were taken from a representative number of the overall list of herds, eight of the samples were negative. It is the intention of the department to remove these restrictions," he said.

Mr Rogan said there had been no further sampling of the restricted pig herds at this point in time in its investigation or in any follow-up actions.

These pigs and the cattle from the farms where elevated levels of traces of dioxins were discovered will be slaughtered and destroyed and this will be paid for from the €180 million fund agreed between the Government, processors and farmers on Wednesday night.

Bord Bia director of markets Michael Murphy said there had been some difficulties in the Italian market over veterinary certification and product had to be diverted elsewhere.

"Generally, the very positive statements from the European Food Safety Authority and the commission have been very helpful for us at this time," he said.

He said he had found "no evidence" that Ireland's major rivals in the international markets were highlighting its difficulties.

He said claims that it could take 10 years to re-establish our international pork markets again were "over pessimistic".

The Department of Agriculture will seek Dáil approval for up to €180 million in extra spending to cover the cost of the meat industry recovery package. The Government's Appropriation Bill will go before the Dáil on Tuesday and the Department of Finance had been keen for all spending extras to be dealt with by then.

However, the Department of Agriculture, according to a spokeswoman, will not be ready to present its final package to the Oireachtas until Wednesday.

So far, a final decision has not been made on whether it will seek authorisation for the full €180 million, or just that part of it that will be spent before the end of the year.

The Garda and PSNI investigation continues on both sides of the Border into the source of the oil which caused the problem.