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First Pork, Now Tainted Beef In Ireland

Ireland announced Tuesday it has found illegal levels of dioxins - the chemicals that are devastating its pork industry - in cattle, but insisted its beef was safe to eat.

Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith said Ireland has decided not to recall any of its beef products at home or abroad because, unlike the contamination of pork products, the level and extent of dioxin found so far in cattle is much lower.

Smith said dioxin tests had come back positive for three farms out of 11 tested so far, while results were pending for 34 more farms that received dioxin-contaminated feed. He described the three farms that failed as "technically noncompliant, but not at a level that would pose any public health concern."

Smith said the government would prevent any cattle at those three farms from being slaughtered and put into the food chain until they could be individually tested for dioxin levels. Until then, he said, no meat from those farms would be permitted to enter the market.

Alan O'Reilly, deputy chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, said dioxin levels detected in cattle from the three farms were two to three times over legal limits. He contrasted that with last week's finding of dioxin levels in pigs that were 80 to 200 times over those limits.

"There's a huge difference," O'Reilly said.

Ireland's chief medical officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, said the levels of dioxins detected in Irish beef and pork would not pose a health risk to anyone who ate either meat.

"To all intents and purposes this is not a public health issue. ... We do not expect to see symptoms as a result of this," Holohan said.

Nonetheless, the latest findings threatened to undermine Ireland's annual $2 billion industry in beef, Ireland's primary agricultural export - more than three times the value of Ireland's gridlocked pork industry.

Ireland's major pigmeat processors have been refusing to start slaughtering an estimated 100,000 pigs at nine farms where illegally high levels of dioxins have been confirmed. The processors have already laid off 1,400 workers and say they won't budge until the government reimburses their costs.