Commission presents report on human exposure to dioxin

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 March 2000



Jukes, D. (2000), "Commission presents report on human exposure to dioxin", British Food Journal, Vol. 102 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Commission presents report on human exposure to dioxin

A study on the most current dioxin exposure and health data in the EU, co-funded by DG Environment, has been presented by Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom's services to the Commission task force on dioxins. The main conclusion of the report is that, for some parts of the population, the daily intake of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds is still above the recommended levels, despite the fact that dioxin levels have been decreasing in the recent years in all countries for which data for the last ten to 15 years are available. On average, exposure has fallen by 10 per cent per year between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s.

Of total human exposure to dioxins, 95 to 98 per cent is directly related to food consumption. The estimated average dietary exposure for consumers within the EU is currently in the range 1-3 pictogram (10-12g) toxicity equivalents per kilogram body weight per day (pg TEQ/kg body weight/day). This does not include dioxin-like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which are estimated to contribute roughly 50 per cent of total dietary exposure measured as toxic equivalents (TEQ). If dioxin-like PCBs are taken into account, exposure could be in the range of 2-6pg TEQ/kg body weight/day. It is recognised that, at these levels of background exposure, subtle health effects might occur in the general population.

WHO currently recommends that exposure should not exceed 1-4 TEQ/kg body weight/day, including both dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs. This recommendation is based on a thorough evaluation of all available data on the various toxicological effects of dioxins and PCBs, and the most up-to-date methods of interpretation.

"Consumers at risk" have been defined as those people consuming higher than average amounts of foods with a high fat content, particularly fat fish and fish products, but also meats and dairy products.

The outcome of the study supports the Commission strategy of proposing maximum limits of dioxins in foodstuffs and animal feed in order to reduce the daily intake as quickly as possible. As a medium to long-term measures to reduce dioxins, the Commission has proposed a directive on the incineration of waste (1), which will hopefully be adopted next summer. Emissions produced by the incineration of waste pollute soil and grass and thus enter the food chain through livestock. Reducing emissions from waste incineration will help preventing such contamination of the food chain.

David Jukes

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