Food experts warn of dioxins in milk

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has warned of the presence of dioxins in whole milk and whole milk products from animals that have been grazing within 2 km (1.2 miles) of pyres used for burning suspected foot-and-mouth infected carcasses.

The new independent body said the risk of contamination is slight and adds that the majority of milk and dairy products sold to consumers are mixed and are not affected. The warning comes as a result of a risk assessment by the FSA which shows that dioxins from the pyres will be deposited on land within a two kilometre radius and believes that there is at most a “small additional risk” to health from the pollution caused by burning the carcasses of animals affected by the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

The agency has taken samples of milk, eggs, soil and grass from around pyres and is awaiting full results. It has advised consumers of whole milk and dairy products from animals that have been grazing within 2 km (1.2 miles) of pyres to vary their diet to include milk and milk products from other sources. Skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, or products made from these, are not affected, it says.

The warning comes after the Department of Health warned that anyone less than two kilometres (1.25 miles) downwind of pyres was likely to have dioxin intake above recommended safety levels (see related story). Friends of the Earth (FOE) has continually warned of the dangers of dioxins being emitted by the railway sleepers, fuel and other materials used on the pyres and has called for a public inquiry into why MAFF did not follow the Environment Agency’s ‘hierarchy’ of disposal, which gives rendering, burning in licensed incinerators and landfills as the safest methods of disposal, and burning on open pyres as one of the worst. The environmental NGO says its research shows that the vast majority of landfills declared as safe to bury animals were not used. It has also advised parents with babies or young children to avoid full fat milk from affected areas and thoroughly wash dirt off any vegetables.

“Today’s announcement is yet more worrying news for farmers and families in foot and mouth areas,” commented Charles Secrett, FOE’s Executive Director. “We need to know why MAFF did not follow the Environment Agency’s recommendations on the safe disposal of animal carcasses. In the absence of a public inquiry, suspicions will grow that disposal methods may have been dictated more by the date of the Election than by concern for public health.”

“It is unlikely there will be any health concerns but we need to double-check with the results from tests on milk,” said FSA Chairman Sir John Krebs. As a result the agency has set up an advise line for concerned dairy farmers on 0800 915 1601.

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