The profile of dioxins found in the tainted Irish pork meat is similar to those found in electronic transformer oils, claims the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
Routine testing of the food chain last week by Irish food safety officials found pig feed tainted with toxic dioxins, and the Irish government, as a result, ordered the food industry on Saturday to recall all domestically produced pork products from the market.
Yesterday, officials confirmed that the feed came from one supplier, and the source of the contamination has now been contained; the tainted feed was provided to ten Irish farms that produce approximately ten per cent of the total supply of pigs in Ireland.
The plant involved is Millstream Power Recycling Limited, in Co Carlow, which recycles food products into pig meal, and it said that it has been helping officials with their investigation into how the company's health and safety procedures could have been breached.
A spokesman for Millstream said the oil that the officials were testing had never been added as an ingredient but was used in a machine used to dry animal feed.
The presence of the dioxin polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the animal feed and pork samples was confirmed by test results from a UK laboratory.
The FSAI's chief executive Alan Reilly said that the levels of the dioxin in the feed were very high, in the region of about 80-200 times above the safe limits.
Dioxins are formed during combustion processes, such as waste incineration, and during some industrial processes.
Chronic long-term exposure to the dioxin can have serious health effects, including causing cancers; however, the FSAI said the recall would ensure consumers only had minimum exposure to the contaminant.
The FSAI have pledged to have pork products back on the market within a week.
Ireland exported €368m worth of pigmeat in 2007, half of it to the UK, according to the body representing the sector, Food and Drink Industry Ireland (FDII).
Padraig Walshe, president of the Irish Farmers' Association, claims the recall is a disaster for the pig sector at one of its busiest times of the year.
The Irish Association of Pigmeat Processors (IAPP) emphasised that the recall was a precautionary step.
"We recognise the intent of the full recall is to move quickly to reassure consumers that the limited amount of product in the overall system that may have contamination is thoroughly dealt with immediately," stated the association.
The IAPP stressed that Irish pigmeat processors operate to the highest EU and international standards: "This issue has been thrust upon us because of a feed contaminant problem on a small number of farms. This development is without doubt a major blow to the Irish pigmeat sector."
The association said that the Irish pork processing industry is engaging with the government and other stakeholders to quickly put in place plans, both operational and financial, that will ensure business continuity.
Jobs at risk
Meanwhile, the Irish trade union, SIPTU, claims that up to 6,000 jobs are at risk in the pig industry following the dioxin contamination.
The union is critical of the measures implemented by the Irsih government and the FSAI claiming they were too stringent given that only a minority of pig farms were affected by the contaminated feed.