Three cattle farms test positive for dioxins

Cattle from three farms in the Republic of Ireland have been found to have slightly higher levels of dioxins than recommended.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said at its board meeting today that 11 farms had been tested and that cattle from the three farms tested positive for dioxins. It added that testing would continue and that it could take another two or three days before it could provide further information, as samples were "frustratingly slow to come".

As a precaution, stock and carcases from the affected herds are being held and will not enter the food supply chain.

Dr Andrew Wadge, FSA chief scientist, said: "We would expect that the risk from dioxin in beef is significantly lower than in pork. Cattle consume a wider variety of feeds and the way their bodies process the feed is different, which makes the risk of contamination much lower."

Ireland's chief veterinary officer Addy Rogan is expected to confirm that Irish beef remains 100% safe to eat during a meeting with chief vets from other EU member states in Brussels today.

The FSA has published a list of the meat processors in the Republic of Ireland affected by the pork incident, as well as meat companies in England, which have received pork products from these processors.

To date, five processing plants in the Republic of Ireland that have received the contaminated pork have been identified and 12 processing plants in Northern Ireland have been identified as potentially receiving contaminated pork from the Republic of Ireland.

No pigs in Northern Ireland were fed with the contaminated feed and pork processing has now resumed in Northern Ireland, with locally sourced pork products back on the shelves.

Despite media panic and consumer confusion over the contamination scare, the FSA has assured that "there is generally good traceability in the UK food supply chain" and that most major retailers and caterers have already traced their products and removed affected pork.

"We've asked retailers to work with us to agree a date this week when we will be able to say with certainty that consumers can now buy Irish pork unaffected by contaminated feed," said a spokesperson.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) today published a statement, following its study of limited data provided by the Commission in relation to contamination levels. In it, it has taken account of the fat content of products containing pork, as well as consumption patterns across Europe.

EFSA's statement, based on the assumption that exposure at these high levels only began in September 2008 and that effective measures have now been taken to remove this excessive exposure from Irish pork and pork products, said that consumers should not be unduly concerned.

It said that the levels of dioxins in pork and pork products will depend on the fat content, because dioxins accumulate in the fat. The longer the exposure and the higher the fat content, the more dioxins accumulate and stay in the animal's body. In humans, once exposure ends, the body burden begins to decrease.

EFSA calculated several exposure scenarios for both average and high consumers, assuming three different dioxin concentrations in the pork, and found little cause for concern.

Wadge commented: "It's good news that EFSA can say so clearly that composite pork products, such as sausage rolls and pork pies, are fine to eat. Their expert opinion is also extremely reassuring to the many of us who enjoy a good pork roast."

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