herald

Sunday 23 November 2014

Mister Dioxin

Wealthy businessman Robert Hogg is accused of destroying an entire industry.

Former Rose of Tralee escort, Robert Hogg is the man whose recycling plant is being probed for supplying contaminated feed to pig and beef farmers.

Gardai and Environment Protection Agency officials were today still at his Co Carlow plant as they investigated the cause of the crisis.

The 43-year-old was forced to return home early from his honeymoon in Argentina with his bride, Margaret O’Leary, when the crisis broke.

Locals say he is “completely devastated” at the turn of events, which has also affected his elderly parents, Argentinian born Derek (81) and Doreen (74).

He took over the family’s pig farm and by 1995 had set up a series of companies, including Millstream Power Recycling, the firm at the centre of the criminal investigation by gardai and the PSNI. A keen polo player, last year he fulfilled a major ambition by building a small polo ground and pavilion beside the family home at Clohamon Mills on the outskirts of Bunclody, Co Wexford.

He built a luxury home the same year and just a few weeks ago, he married for the second time.

Locals say the family moved to Clohamon Mills about 40 years ago from Argentina. They set up a piggery and later began operating a hydro electric mill at Clohamon Weir.

Fire badly damaged farm buildings several years ago, killing hundreds of pigs, but the business recovered quickly.

In 2001, Mr Hogg first got involved in polo, a popular sport in Argentina. He received lessons from top international coach Major Tom Dawnay and took part in competitions around the country.

He grew tired of travelling to Waterford and Laois for training and facilities and last year got planning permission for three pitches, a club house and parking facilities.

“I wanted to play it in my own backyard,” he said at the time. “All I needed was a bit of land and the ponies.”

Mr Hogg now has 12 fully trained ponies. The club charges new members up to €1,000 to join and €600 in annual fees.

It is thought that fumes from oil powering a drying heater at the plant, which recycled food into animal feed, caused the contamination.

Meanwhile, talks aimed at a resumption of pig slaughtering resumed this morning.

The Department of Agriculture's chief vet, Paddy Rogan, was in Brussels today to tell his EU colleagues that Irish beef is safe and can continue to be traded normally on both domestic and export markets.

Probe

A cross-border probe involving gardaí and the PSNI is also continuing into indications that the oil-tainted animal feed at the centre of the pork contamination was sourced in Co Tyrone.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and gardaí are continuing to examine activities at Millstream Power Recycling Limited, Co Carlow, where oil used in a burner to heat food products being recycled as animal feed was deemed “inappropriate”.

Gardai are liaising with the PSNI into their investigation into the source of the oil that allegedly contaminated the feed at the recycling plant.

All pork products were recalled at the weekend after tests confirmed the presence of dioxins in samples taken from a number of pig farms that had been supplied by Millstream.

The move came as the Government announced that three beef herds tested positive for a toxic food stuff.

But no beef products have been recalled after officials insisted there was no threat to public health.

A recall would have devastated the €2.5bn beef industry and put thousands of jobs at risk.

Officials are awaiting the results of testing on a further 34 cattle farms.

The news came as the number of job losses in the pork industry reached about 1,800 because of the damage caused by last weekend’s pig meat recall. The European Food Safety Authority was expected to release their findings later today on whether the dioxin levels in Irish pork and composite products exceed EU health levels.

The European Commission was also awaiting the lab results from the 13 EU member states which may have imported contaminated pig meat produce from Ireland.

If the products are found to be clear of dioxins then they can continue to be sold in those markets, a spokesperson said.

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