Dioxins are environmental contaminants that may be formed during combustion processes and may be present in industrial wastes. It is illegal for dioxins at certain levels to be in food products.
FSAI FAQ on the issue:
Why have Irish pork and bacon products been recalled from the market?
Irish produced pigmeat has recently tested positive for the presence of dioxins. As all Irish pigs are slaughtered and processed at the same processing plants, it is impossible to differentiate between products that have tested positive and those that have not. In the interest of consumer safety, all pork and pork products have therefore been recalled.
How does food become contaminated with dioxins?
Dioxin contamination of food can occur from two sources. The main source is feed that contains contaminated components. The second source is contamination that comes from the environment where animals may be kept.
How has Irish pork and bacon become contaminated with dioxins?
Animal feed, from one source, which recently tested positive for dioxins, was distributed to a number of pig farms and fed to the pigs.
What are dioxins?
Dioxins are persistent chemical contaminants in the environment. Although there are natural sources of dioxins such as forest fires, dioxins are usually formed as by-products of certain industrial combustion and chemical processes.
What are 'persistent' chemicals?
Persistent chemicals are highly resistant to breakdown processes, and therefore persist in the environment, followed by uptake into the food chain.
Can dioxins cause cancer?
There is evidence to suggest that exposure to dioxins at very high levels (following industrial accidents) has been associated with an increase in the incidence of cancer in humans.
Are there maximum levels set for dioxins in food?
Maximum levels (MLs) for dioxins are set by Commission Regulation No 1881/2006, the framework EU legislation which sets maximum levels for chemical contaminants in foodstuffs. MLs are set at a very low level (as low as reasonably achievable for the particular foodstuff in question), in order to ensure that consumers' health is not affected by consuming these products.
Are there maximum levels set for dioxins in feed?
Yes. Separate legislation applies to levels of dioxins and PCBs in animal feeds, since this is another important source of contamination of the human food chain.
What levels were found in the pigmeat?
The samples tested indicated a wide range of dioxin levels, all above the maximum levels set by legislation.
How were the dioxins found?
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) discovered the presence of marker PCBs, indicative of dioxin contamination, in pork fat during routine monitoring of the food chain for a range of contaminants. Samples were sent to a laboratory in the UK for further analysis to determine if there were dioxins present. Results have confirmed that dioxins were present in the samples.
Is any routine sampling carried out or was this found by accident?
The FSAI, in collaboration with its official agencies, carries out regular checks on levels of dioxins and PCBs in the food chain. Approximately 70 samples of pig fat are analysed for PCBs annually. Previously, the results of these checks have shown that the levels in Irish food are generally low compared with other industrialised countries.
Are other meat products affected?
Samples of other meats have not tested positive for dioxins to date.
Should consumers be concerned?
Even though it is illegal for dioxins to be present in foodstuffs, any possible risk to consumer health is extremely low.
Do dioxins affect children?
Children are expected to be affected by dioxins in the same way as adults, although they may be more sensitive.
Could I have been exposed to dioxins?
Consumers are exposed to dioxins at low levels on a daily basis from a potentially wide range of sources including car emissions, smoking and fires. Until now, surveillance work undertaken by the FSAI indicates that the general exposure of consumers in Ireland is low when compared to other European countries, and well below the maximum intake established by international risk assessment bodies.
To ensure consumers are fully protected, this maximum intake level also incorporates very large safety margins compared to any level that might cause effects in experimental animals. Therefore, any increased exposure to dioxins for a short period is highly unlikely to lead to any health effects.
If I have eaten an affected product, has my health been damaged?
There is no risk of immediate illness. If you have eaten an affected product the risk is likely to be very small, however not eating it any more is a sensible thing to do. It is continued high level exposure over time that gives cause for concern.
If the risk is very small why are all pork and bacon products removed from sale?
Dioxins are toxic and persistent and consumers should not be exposed to them unnecessarily. It is also illegal in foods.
Could I have some products at home that contain dioxins?
The following products could possibly be contaminated.
- Pork sausages
- Sausage meat
- Gammon steaks
- Offal from pigs
- Sausage rolls
- Black pudding
- White pudding
- Ready meals with Irish pork/bacon as an ingredient
It is advisable to not to eat any products that may be contaminated.
For updates go to the website of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland