December 8, 2008 / 4:32 PM / 10 years ago

Irish fret over favorite food after pork scare

DUBLIN (Reuters) - People in Ireland are having doubts about the traditional bacon and sausage fry-up after a contamination scare sparked an international recall of Irish pork products.

“I do feel worried and it will take a lot to convince me pork is safe after this,” said Sinead O’Rourke, a mother of three, as she shopped for groceries at a supermarket in Dublin on Monday.

The Irish government has ordered all domestic pork products out of shops and restaurants after animal feed was found to be contaminated with dioxin, which can cause cancer, in 19 pig farms in Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

While farmers face a financial crisis, Irish consumers are substituting chicken and beef for their usual ham sandwiches and butchers are fretting about the impact on the upcoming Christmas trade.

“It could not have happened at a worse time,” said Darragh Buckley, manager of a butcher’s shop close to Dublin’s bustling O’Connell Street.

In the five-star Shelbourne Hotel, afternoon tea was being served with parma ham sandwiches instead of the usual baked ham from Co. Limerick and the morning breakfast bacon was from Denmark.

Although the risk to public health is considered extremely low, the pork industry’s reputation has taken a beating.

“Consumer confidence in the quality and safety of the victuals being offered for sale can make or break an industry,” wrote the Irish Times in an editorial.

Traditional boiled bacon and cabbage remains a national favorite, with retail sales of pig meat products valued at 425 million euros ($549.5 million) last year.

Total Irish pig meat consumption was estimated at 139,000 tonnes in 2007 or almost 33 kg (about 70 pounds) per person, Ireland’s food board said.

Many of the country’s 400 pig producers are small and medium sized enterprises and the fallout has already begun to hit meat processors, with unions warning of thousands of potential job losses in an economy already in recession.

But with the Christmas festive season already gearing up and the traditional fry-up breakfast seen as one of the best hangover “cures,” some vendors were hopeful that trade would pick up once the all-clear has been given.

“An Irish breakfast without bacon and sausage is just not an Irish breakfast,” said Justyna Kizowska of The Pig & Heifer deli.

Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Charles Dick

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