Dioxin exposure exceeds recommended levels

Dioxins in Europe are still exceeding recommended safe levels for human exposure, despite having dropped by 50% since the end of the 1980’s, say European scientists.

In a recent report, the European Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) found that a considerable proportion of the European population exceeds the tolerable weekly intake of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs, based on levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (see related story). Though this does not necessarily mean that there is an appreciable risk to the health of individuals exceeding this limit, it does increase the threat, says the SCF.

The report was based on analysis of the Scientific Co-operation Taskforce (EU SCOOP) database of food contamination data from 10 European countries, published in June 2000, and also found that more than 90% of human exposure to dioxins is from food, with food of animal origin such as fish, meat, and dairy products, contributing 80% of exposure. Foodstuffs with the highest levels of dioxins and dioxin-like

PCBs include fish, eggs, milk, game meat and liver, according to the SCF.

In its report, the Committee advises the European Commission that it should:

  • reconsider the current conventional approach of setting maximum limits for dioxins and should provide a legal basis for a wider range of measures;
  • collect food consumption data across Europe from regular national surveys, with attention given to the comparability of the data;
  • include dioxin-like compounds in monitoring programmes;
  • continue with surveys of dioxin-like compounds in human milk and blood in order to follow trends over time across Europe;
  • update risk assessments for non-dioxin-like PCBs, in view of their predominance in foods, as well as for dioxin-like PCBs.

The Committee found that though breast-fed infants have, in the past, have been identified as a high risk group for dioxin contamination (see related story), current evidence does not justify changing the promotion of or support for breast feeding.

A similar report, published earlier in November, by the Scientific Committee on Animal Nutrition (SCAN), included recommendations that materials used in the manufacture of animal feed should be guaranteed for quality and safety, and that good agricultural practices should be used in controlling possible contamination of animals and their food at farms.

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