Recall an 'absolute disaster' for farm sector, says Walshe

 

The discovery of dioxins in Irish pigs has been described as the biggest crisis to hit the agri-sector since the foot and mouth outbreak or BSE.

The president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (Ifa), Padraig Walshe described the pork recall as “an absolute disaster” at an important time of the year for the pig sector but expressed the hope that pig meat free from any contamination could be back on Irish shelves within a matter of days.

Mr Walshe stressed that less than 10 per cent of the products on the market had been processed since September 1st. “We want to reassure the consumer there are meats ready for processing as we speak and they will be processed during the week and will be perfectly safe,” he added.

The Irish Association of Pig Processors said the recall was thrust upon the industry and desribed it as a blow to the entire sector.

The association vowed to work with the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to deal with the withdrawal of pigmeat immediately.

An IAPP spokesman said processors recognised the intention of the full recall was to move quickly to reassure consumers that the limited amount of product in the overall system that may have contamination was thoroughly dealt with.

The Labour Party said the discovery of the contamination in pig carcasses was a cause of concern for consumers, producers and everyone involved in the Irish food industry.

Sean Sherlock, Labour Party spokesman on agriculture, said the total recall of all Irish pork products produced since September 1st may appear "draconian" but said that in the interests of protecting public health there was no choice.

However, while he said consumer health and welfare was the priority in this matter, he called on the Government to try to save the seasonal ham and pork market.

"We will now find out if Irish food is indeed as traceable as they have been telling us it is. If it is, we should be a position to establish precisely which producers processed this contaminated meat, and therefore should be able to contain the problem, on that basis, at least to some extent." he said.

"We don't want to risk destroying an entire food industry if it can be proved that it can be contained to products that came from a specific number of processors, or contained within a particular geographic area."

Mr Sherlock said the announcement was as big a threat to the Irish food industry as the BSE and foot and mouth outbreaks.

He also called for an explanation as to how the contamination came about, and said an independent investigation was necessary to restore confidence in the industry.

"It appears that pig producers are totally blameless in that they adhered to all licensing rules. However, if the Department granted a licence for the production of a feedstuff that is contaminated, then we need to know why that licensee was not investigated sooner, why that licensee was not tested stringently and why it took an exported carcass to highlight this," he said.

Fine Gael spokesman on agriculture, Michael Creed said the discovery raised a number of serious questions, including the consequences to human health, the extent of problem, and if the contamination was limited to the pig industry.

“The effectiveness of the numerous State agencies and Government Departments involved in monitoring the food sector must be examined immediately," he said.

“This is an extremely serious issue which requires the Government’s undivided attention."

Fine Gael's deputy spokesman on agriculture, Andrew Doyle, said the recall highlighted "significant inadequacies" in the system.

“There is no disputing the fact that traceability of food in Ireland has improved considerably in recent years. However the current situation, which sees 100 per cent of pork products being recalled from Irish retailers, even though authorities have said that contamination extends to fewer than 10 per cent of farms, shows that our system is clearly lacking and is in no way comprehensive," he said.

The recall will hit the State's pork industry which is worth close to half a billion euro annually. Exports of Irish pigmeat were worth €212 million in 2007.

However, Food & Drink Export Ireland (FDEI), which is part of the Irish Exporters Association (IEA), said it is “extremely concerned”, and warned that it could extend beyond the direct pig meat export market.

The body said pizza producers, food service companies and hamper producers could be hit by the recall.

In total, the pigmeat and related added value products is estimated by FDEI to be worth about €750 million.

“The Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority have acted rapidly to protect the Irish consumer , but they must now focus attention of safe guarding the export market,” said John Whelan, chief executive of the IEA.

“Severe damage to our export trade is inevitable, and the Government and Bord Bia must ensure it rapidly moves to support the industry to contain and respond with positive marketing in the aftermath, of this devastating incident.”