Inquiry as lamb carcass with elevated dioxin level discovered

Food Safety Authority says contaminated lamb does not pose a public health risk

The lamb carcass was slaughtered at a processing plant where a moderately elevated level of dioxin was subsequently found in a “composite sample” of 10 combined livers. Photograph: iStock

The lamb carcass was slaughtered at a processing plant where a moderately elevated level of dioxin was subsequently found in a “composite sample” of 10 combined livers. Photograph: iStock

 

The discovery of a lamb carcass with an elevated dioxin level is being investigated by authorities.

Both the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) have confirmed the case which emerged last Monday.

Dioxins and related polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are toxic chemicals that persist in the environment and can accumulate in the food chain.

Their main sources are incinerators and various forms of heavy industrial processes including smelting, cement production and chemical manufacturing.

The department and the FSAI have both said the contaminated lamb does not pose a public health risk but is being investigated as a matter of procedure, following routine sampling of the food chain in the production process.

The carcass was slaughtered at a processing plant where a moderately elevated level of dioxin was subsequently found in a “composite sample” of 10 combined livers. This was then traced back to identify the individual animal with a higher level of contamination which was in turn sourced to a flock in Co Louth.

Testing

In a statement, the department said that as a result of this testing “one lamb liver sample was identified with an elevated level of dioxin which necessitates follow-up measures to establish the source(s) of the contamination.

“As part of routine procedures in such cases, the department is following up on the finding on the supply farm.”

Separately, the FSAI said it is liaising with the department and “awaiting further information as it becomes available”.

“Based on the information available at this point, the FSAI is satisfied that there is no risk to public health,” it said.

The presence of dioxins and PCBs in the environment in Europe has declined since the 1970s, following concerted efforts by public authorities and industry.

They are usually found at very low levels in many foods. Longer-term exposure to these substances has, however, been shown to cause a range of adverse effects on the nervous, immune and endocrine systems, and to impair reproductive function. They may also cause cancer when occurring in high concentrations.

Their persistence and the fact that they accumulate in the food chain, notably in animal fat, is a prime concern from a food safety and health perspective.

The EPA has overall responsibility for monitoring dioxin levels in the environment and in foods. It carries out an annual dioxin survey including the testing of milk samples from a wide variety of locations. Recent surveys have shown very low levels of dioxins in Ireland, compared to other EU countries.