DUBLIN Ireland's pork producers sought emergency aid on Monday to help foot a bill of at least 100 million euros ($128.2 million) after dioxin contamination caused meat to be pulled from shop shelves in more than 20 countries.
"We're facing a major financial crisis, a major liquidity problem," said Cormac Healy, director of The Irish Association of Pigmeat Processors (IAPP), adding that the industry has appealed for emergency financial help from the government.
Ireland's farm minister Brendan Smith said it wanted to get Irish pork products back on the shelves as soon as possible with a return to processing.
"We would have to look to the European Union in respect of some co-funding or full funding of some of those issues," Prime Minister Brian Cowen said after talks with meat processors.
The European Commission said contaminated Irish pork had been shipped to 21 countries and territories, including Britain, France and Germany within the EU, and Japan, Russia, China and the United States outside the trading bloc.
Veterinary authorities said only 10 of Ireland's 500 pig farms had been contaminated by dioxin-tainted feed, but they would not allow processing to restart anywhere until every producer could prove it was using clean feed.
The Irish government on Saturday ordered the food industry to recall all domestically produced pork products from shops, restaurants and plants because of contamination with dioxins, which in some forms and with long exposure can cause cancer.
"We can say the measures taken have been fairly exhaustive," Commission health spokeswoman Nina Papadoulaki told a news briefing. "The measures that the Irish authorities have taken are considered as sufficient at this stage."
"They blocked everything ... the whole system is in place, everything seems to function well," she said.
Authorities also said nine farms in the British province of Northern Ireland had used contaminated pig feed.
Officials at Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said the contamination was caused when non-food grade oil was used as fuel to dry waste food, which was then turned into animal feed. Rules state that the oil used in such a process must be food grade.
The European Commission said contaminated pork had been shipped from Ireland to 12 EU countries -- Belgium, Britain, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and the Netherlands.
France said 1,600 tonnes of Irish pork had entered the country and it was likely some of it had been eaten. France imports 4,400 tonnes of Irish pork a year, only 0.2 percent of the country's annual pork consumption.
Italy said 22 lots of Irish pork imported since September 1. would be impounded and analyzed.
Outside the bloc, contaminated pork was shipped to Canada, Japan, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, China, Hong Kong, and the United States.
The IAPP said pig slaughtering would not restart in Ireland for a number of days while logistical and financial problems were addressed.
"There are indications from my members already that, between debtors list and stock that they believe is in the system, we're looking at a bill in the region of 100 million (euros)," IAPP's Healy said. "And we're just starting there."
Ireland exports pig meat and related products, such as pizzas, pies and sandwiches containing pork, worth 750 million euros ($950 million) a year, 63 percent of it to the United Kingdom, according to the Irish Exporters Association.
Irish producers normally slaughter an average 10,000 pigs per day, Healy said.
6,000 JOBS AT RISK
The SIPTU trade union said up to 6,000 jobs in the pig industry were at risk.
Irish authorities are working on a labeling system to identify new products when pork goes back on the shelves.
"Certainly we'd be hoping that there will be product back on the shelves sometime later this week," Aidan Cotter, chief executive of the Irish Food Board, told public broadcaster RTE.
Chief veterinary officers from all EU countries will meet on Wednesday to discuss the incident, Papadoulaki said.
One Dublin-based trader said Kerry Group, which supplies ingredients and seasonings to other food makers, was the only major listed Irish company affected by the recall.
Kerry Group could face losses of 4-5 million euros a week in the run up to Christmas, said Goodbody Stockbrokers analyst Liam Igoe.
A spokesman for food producer Kerry Group, which sells Denny bacon in Ireland, said its products had been pulled from shelves but would not give a monetary value of the company's potential losses.