Pork contamination Q&A

Behind the Headlines

Monday December 8 2008

The FSA has advised the UK public to avoid eating Irish pork

"The levels detected in these pigs are extremely low and present no immediate cause for concern, but it is prudent of the Irish government to recall the meat while scientists get to the bottom of this contamination."

Professor Alan Boobis, Toxicologist at Imperial College London

Several newspapers have today reported that the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has advised the public to avoid eating pork products from the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland.

This is because some Irish pork meat has been found to contains dioxins, a type of chemical associated with health problems. The Irish government has since recalled all Irish pork. Some UK supermarkets are also withdrawing stock products containing Irish pork.

The FSA said, “From the information we have at this time, we do not believe there is a significant risk to UK consumers”. It continues to monitor the situation.

This recall is a precautionary measure as the levels of dioxins found in this case are relatively low, and dioxins are only known to pose a risk with long-term exposure at high levels.


What is the problem?

The Irish government found through standard testing that some pork products were contaminated with dioxins, a chemical associated with health problems. As a precautionary measure it has have recalled all Irish pork products.


A range of pork products such as ham, bacon, sausage and salami may contain the contaminated meat. Products such as ready meals or pizzas that contain pork may also be affected.

About dioxins

  • Dioxins are a group of over 210 chemicals produced mainly by burning and industrial processes.
  • All foods contain at least low levels of dioxins.
  • Dietary intake of dioxins has fallen 85% since 1982.
  • Extensive population studies have found low levels of dioxins do not present a risk of cancer.
  • Health risks come from eating high levels of dioxins over a long period of time.
  • Cigarette smoke also contains low levels of dioxins.


The source of the contamination appears to be pigs that were given animal feed containing dioxins.


What should I do now?

Consumers should check labels and avoid pork products from the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland. The recall applies to foodstuffs produced from September 2008 onwards.


If the package labelling is unclear, the shop where the product was bought may be able to offer specific advice, and may offer a refund on any affected products.

It is advisable not to eat any pork products from the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland if you are unsure about them.

I may have eaten Irish pork recently. What should I do?

There is no need to be alarmed or seek medical advice as the FSA has said that they do not believe there is a significant risk to UK consumers.

To cause any health problems you would need to be exposed to high levels of dioxins over a long period of time. The contaminated pork products contain relatively low levels of dioxins, and have only been produced from September 2008.

In addition, only a fraction of pork sold in the UK comes from Ireland and it is thought that, in total, only 56 Irish farms have used the contaminated animal feed. The total recall of Irish pork is a precautionary measure.


Where do I go for further advice?

The FSA is continuing to monitor the situation. Visit the website at www.food.gov.uk for updated information.


Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

Irish pig feed supplier investigates possible contamination. The Daily Telegraph, December 8 2008

Shoppers warned to throw out Irish poison pork as alert spreads to the UK. The Daily Mail, December 8 2008

Irish pork taken off shelves in cancer scare. The Metro, December 8 2008

Shops rush to take Irish pork off shelves. BBC Online, December 8 2008


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