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Irish cheese tests positive for E.coli in South Africa

A sample of Irish cheese tested positive for the bug in South Africa – prompting calls for an embargo on Irish dairy imports.

Dairy exports are worth some €2.3bn to the Irish economy each year.
Dairy exports are worth some €2.3bn to the Irish economy each year.
Image: Douglas C. Pizac/AP

THE INDUSTRY GROUP representing dairy producers in South Africa has called on authorities to ban the import of Irish dairy products, after a sample of Irish cheese imports tested positive for the E.coli bacterium.

A container holding around 22 tonnes of Irish cheese which tested positive for the bacterium arrived in Durban Port three months ago, South Africa’s Daily News reported.

It added that the container was being detained at a cold storage facility and is now to be returned to Ireland.

The cheese was being imported by a chain of South African supermarkets, which has not been named.

A spokesman for the Irish Dairy Board (IDB) confirmed that a sample of Irish cheddar had tested positive, but that the cheese “contained such low levels of bacteria that it is not deemed harmful to humans”.

“However, it did not meet South African import specification,” the spokesman said – asserting that the board, a co-operative of dairy producers which oversees exports to dozens of countries worldwide, maintained “a positive trading relationship with South Africa”.

The board stressed that the case was an isolated incident, and that no similar results had been found in other produce.

An official from the Department of Health in KwaZulu-Natal said the cheese was in the process of being returned to Ireland for examination by the IDB.

He said the IDB had requested that the cheese be checked upon arrival, because while the levels present were within the range of acceptability for human ingestion when the cheese left Ireland, “it could grow and reach an unacceptable range” in transit.

The department was “co-operating very well with the Irish Dairy Board” and was in the process of completing the paperwork to send the produce back to Ireland for further examination.

Earlier this week Bertus de Jongh of the South African Milk Producers’ Organisation called for an embargo on Irish dairy imports, saying that imported products would often not meet South Africa’s health and safety guidelines.

He also argued that the price of Irish imports would damage local industry – saying domestic producers could not compete with the price of Irish cheese, which retails for around 30 rand (€2.75).

However, the organisation has since been in talks with the IDB and de Jongh has recognised that there have never been any previous issues with Irish dairy produce in South Africa.

Teagasc estimates that the export of dairy products and ingredients is worth around €2.3 billion to the Irish economy each year.

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Gavan Reilly

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