Food safety body took 'correct' action to manage dioxin crisis


THE MEASURES taken by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in managing the dioxin scare were “appropriate, proportionate and correct”, its deputy chief executive, Alan Reilly, said yesterday.

He told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture that had the recall of pork products not been ordered, Ireland could have ended up like Belgium in 1999 when all foods of animal origin were removed for six months by the EU. He confirmed the source of the contamination was transformer oil and not plastic wrappers being left on bread and burned into the feed.

“Dioxin experts told us wrappers could not have been the cause.They would have to be heated at levels of 200 degrees centigrade plus and this would have turned the feed into toast. The source was transformer oil,” he said. Mr Reilly was asked by members of the committee, which is investigating the crisis, to defend the recall decision which has cost over €180 million.

He said three reasons governed this decision, the first being it was essential to limit consumer exposure to contaminated products to the shortest possible time period.

The second was that the level of dioxins found in the pork and animal feed were well in excess of legal limits. Under EU regulations they were illegal and could not have remained on the market.

The third reason was it was not possible to distinguish between contaminated and uncontaminated products in about 98 per cent of the national pork throughput. Reminding the committee that pork was back on the shelves within a week, he said if all pork had been left on the shelves, it would have been impossible to trace contaminated products.

“Ireland would have been subjected to safeguard measures from the European Commission as well as substantial damage to our reputation,” he said.

Dr Reilly said until the scare, dioxin contamination was unlikely to be a risk assessment in the context of the HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point systems) systems governing food production. “From now on, the FSAI would expect dioxins to be a hazard that is actively controlled in meat and meat products by a combination of supplier control and testing by food business operators,” he said.

He said the authority had responsibility from the farm gate onwards. It did not have responsibility for animal feed or animal health controls, which were enforced by the Department of Agriculture and which required the HACCP system to be used.

During the crisis, he said, all businesses involved had the requirements in place that aided the tracing of feed and animals.

Dr Claudia Heppner of the European Food Safety Authority said it had given its risk assessment on the dangers posed in the crisis and it was not up to the European authority to say if the recall decision was proportionate or not. The investigation continues today.