Meat processors and suppliers should check the terms of supply arrangements and review their insurance policies in light of the Irish pig meat recall, claims a product liability expert from international law firm Eversheds.
Richard Matthews told FoodProductionDaily.com that meat product manufacturers should confer with brokers and specialist lawyers about their insurance premiums to look at ways that they can be compensated for being caught up in future blanket recalls related to contaminants in products.
“Processors should also be checking that their traceability records are up-to-date and working closely with both suppliers and customers,” he added.
Questions over detection
Matthews said that, going forward, there will need to be a thorough investigation into whether the contamination of Irish pig feedstuffs could have been picked up more quickly.
“The dioxin contamination of pig feed was detected on Monday of last week but it is still not clear as to when exactly the feed was initially tainted,” continued Evershed's head of product liability.
Fumes from using ‘inappropriate’ oil at the Millstream Power Recycling plant in Carlow in the south west of Ireland caused the pig feed contamination, reports the Irish Department of Agriculture; the oil was used to generate heat to dry dough for the feed, and it is believed that fumes from the oil may have contaminated the feed.
The Department said that animal feed plants such as the Carlow premises have been considered low risk, as it claims that there have been not been any food safety incidences of note in these plants in the past decade.
According to the Department, the plant had undergone routine inspection by its officials in 2006 and 2007 and was due for another inspection in either late November or early December of this year.
Department official Dermot Ryan said that the European Commission had audited the Department's inspection process recently and had given it ‘a clean bill of health’.
Tests for dioxins are not carried out regularly due to the fact that they are costly and also because they require the services of a specialised laboratory, currently only available in the UK, added the Department.
However, a spokesperson for the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) told this publication that Ireland’s state laboratory is set to install dioxin testing equipment in February 2009.
Matthews claims that the Irish dioxin crisis has also highlighted anomalies in the labelling regulation regarding meat products.
“Consumers are confused about origin of meat products with often the meat in sausages and processed meats labelled ‘Made in the UK’ or ‘Made in the EU’ coming from a range of different source countries.
“It could be reared and slaughtered in Ireland or elsewhere but labelling legislation allows it to be classified as ‘Made in the UK’ or ‘Produced in the UK’ if final processing took place there,” he said.
Matthews said that the Irish dioxin crisis could place more pressure on regulators to change the labelling rules.
He said that regulators are under pressure in such a contamination crisis to react quickly to restore consumer confidence in the product, and the mixing of pork produce in processing plants made it difficult for authorities to draw distinctions between tainted and non-tainted goods, resulting in a blanket recall of all pig products.
However, Matthews argues that an overhaul of the pig meat supply chain and processing methods, while perhaps enabling greater traceability and less mixing of product, would really be a knee jerk reaction to what is a contained contamination situation, with reportedly low possible risk to consumer health.
He argues that such an overhaul would result in higher prices for consumers due to the significant administration and cost hurdles that would be involved.
Meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) received a request from the Commission yesterday for urgent scientific and technical assistance following the discovery of dioxins in the Irish pig meat.
The Commission’s DG Health and Consumers asked EFSA to provide scientific assistance on the risks for human health related to the possible presence of the contaminants in pig meat and pig meat products from Ireland and the presence of possibly contaminated processed pig meat products from Ireland in composite foods.
EFSA said that it is aiming to publish its findings by tomorrow (10 December).