Irish pork recovering slowly after feed scare
Organic producers failed to escape industrial farm problems, despite efforts.
Hams returned to racks and shelves in time for the traditional Christmas dinner following a recall of all pork products, announced by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on Dec. 6. The decision had stripped butchers and supermarkets bare when dioxins – 80 to 200 times the permitted level – were found in samples of Irish pork traced to tainted animal feed.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Although business is resuming, the recall has dented consumer confidence in the pork sector, which is centered on large-scale producers. As the government moved to protect these producers and their export market, those hit hardest were the artisan operators, whose animals were never in contact with the contaminated feed.
In spite of their commitment to "traceable" organic practices, these small producers fear their farms will continue to suffer from the aftershocks of the crisis.
"When the contamination was discovered, the response should have been 'How do we contain it?'" says John McKenna, coauthor of the Bridgestone Guides to Irish Food. "From the beginning there should have been an exemption for anyone using organic pork or anyone who could prove their traceability. The recall of all products was solely in the interests of the big companies responsible for Ireland's food exports."
The dioxins that contaminated a relatively small amount of pig feed are believed to have come from oil used on machines that dry the feed. The feed was found to have been used at 56 farms. No health problems have been traced to eating pigs that might have been raised on the tainted feed. Farmers say the recall has been devastating. When it was announced, markets had no choice but remove all pork, says Niamh Boylan, spokeswoman for Irish supermarket Superquinn.
"Obviously, when the directive was given to take products off the shelves there was no question that we wouldn't do it," Ms. Boylan says. "But we use a small number of suppliers, and everything under our label is Irish and traceable."
One of those suppliers is James Brett, of Sunglen Farm in County Kilkenny, whose family-run operation includes a food-mill and processing unit. "We also breed our own pigs, so we know where every pig comes from, what they eat, and when they were slaughtered," he says. Nevertheless, this full traceability counted for nothing, and although his products were the first back on Superquinn's shelves, he still had to lay off staff for a number of days.
An even smaller producer is the family-run Caherbeg Free-Range Pork, in County Cork, where owner Avril Allshire's young daughters sometimes look after the animals, which live as naturally as possible in fields at the back of their house.