FOOD safety inspectors are investigating an animal feeds factory in the south east which is suspected of being the cause of a major health scare.
The Department of Agriculture has banned a number of pig farms from selling or slaughtering their animals after its inspectors found traces of a toxic industrial pollutant in their pigs.
It is understood that one possible source of the contamination is out-of-date bread, which did not have its packaging removed, and was subsequently used in the production of animal feed for pigs.
However, it is not known yet if there is any threat to human health because the testing of the contaminated samples has not yet been completed.
The department inspectors discovered the presence of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in the slaughtered pigs.
These organic compounds were used widely as coolants and lubricating fluids, but production of them was banned in the 1970s due to their high toxicity.
They are a part of a group of organic compounds known as the "dirty dozen" due to their resistance to being degraded environmentally and exposure to them can lead to death or illness.
It is suspected that the failure to remove packaging from recycled bread used in pig feed may be behind the presence of PCBs in the slaughtered pigs.
Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd, who was contacted about the issue by a concerned constituent working in the food industry, called on the department to ensure that appropriate action was taken to deal with any potential threat to people's health.
The Department of Agriculture has declined to provide further details about the suspected factory on the grounds that it would not be fair to identify any particular business until further tests were carried out.
In a statement, it said that a small number of pig farms had been restricted as a precautionary measure.
"Animals from these farms will only be allowed to enter the food chain if they are shown to be free of the contaminant following laboratory testing," it said.
The testing is taking place this weekend in the State laboratory in Celbridge, Co Kildare, and additional samples have been sent to the UK for testing.
The department said it will provide the results and make a further statement on Monday.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which is monitoring the potential human health implications of the contamination scare, was not available for comment last night.