updated 12/6/2008 10:32:28 PM ET 2008-12-07T03:32:28

Ireland has issued an international warning for people not to consume Irish-produced pork products because they could contain dangerous levels of contaminants.

The government's departments of health and agriculture on Saturday jointly called for the recall or destruction of all Irish pork produced since Sept. 1 after discovering potentially dangerous dioxins in pigs and pig feed at 80 to 200 times the safety limit.

Dioxins, which are naturally occurring and can enter an animal's system through its food or environment, accumulate in the pig's fat — and, if ingested by humans in sufficient volume and time period, have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

In a statement, the office of Prime Minister Brian Cowen said officials from the Agriculture Department and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland were still investigating "the extent of the contamination and to identify the processors and products involved."

The order dealt the biggest blow to Irish agriculture since the foot-and-mouth disease threat of 2001, when Ireland successfully prevented the spread of the disease from neighboring Britain — but still faced months of lost export business for its beef because of foreign fears.

This time, the government's warning that Irish pork may have been tainted for months threatens a pig industry worth more than euro450 million ($600 million) annually in this country of 4.2 million.

The government asked grocery stores, pubs and restaurants in Ireland to ship back all Irish pork products to their manufacturers as part of the investigation and asked the public "as a precautionary measure not to consume Irish pork and bacon products at this time."

Ireland's farms produce more than 3 million pigs a year, nearly half of which are consumed within the Republic of Ireland. But Irish pork also is heavily exported to neighboring Northern Ireland and Britain — and appears in grocery stores and processed meats through much of Europe and Asia.

Last year Ireland exported 113,000 tons of pig meat, nearly half of that to the United Kingdom. Ireland also shipped more than 500,000 live pigs to the UK for slaughter and processing there.

Ireland's other major customers for pork are Germany, which bought 9,000 tons last year; France, Italy and several Eastern European countries, which together took more than 20,000 tons; Russia, 6,600 tons, and China, 1,100 tons.

Ireland's major international competitors for pork-product exports are Brazil, the United States and Canada.

British authorities said they were not too concerned that its citizens' health would suffer from Irish pork products already consumed since September.

The British Food Standards Agency said in a statement its officials "do not believe there will be a significant risk to UK consumers."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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