A new EFSA report says that dietary exposure to dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), toxic chemicals that accumulate in the food chain, has decreased across Europe in recent years.
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) spokesman Jan Op Gen Oorth told FoodProductionDaily.com that report figures from 2008-2010 showed a general decrease in dioxin exposure from 2002-2004.
Reductions ranged from 16% to up to 19% for the general population, with a similar decrease for toddlers and children, Op Gen Oorth said.
Exposure to non-dioxin-like PCBs, a sub-set of PCBs with different toxicological properties, also decreased over the monitoring period, he added.
Adverse health effects
Op Gen Oorth said that dioxins and PCBs were an important health issue in Europe because of the potential high dietary exposure in some population groups.
Dioxins are formed by burning (via waste incineration or forest fires) but are also a byproduct of some industrial proceses; PCBs were heavily used in industry but were banned by most countries in the 1980s.
“They can cause adverse effects on the nervous, immune and endocrine systems, impair reproductive function and may cause cancer,” Op Gen Oorth told this publication.
For the report, EFSA collected 13,797 samples for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs (DL-PCBs) and 19,181 samples for non dioxin-like PCBs (NDL-PCBs) from 24 European Union (EU) Member States, as well as Iceland and Norway.
The report looked at various food types and found that fish, meat and dairy products appeared to be the highest contributing food groups to dietary exposure.
The highest levels of both dioxins and PCBs were found in meat from eels and fish liver end-products, according to the report.
Sheep meat showed lower dioxin levels than meat from bovine animals, while battery-farmed eggs contained a lower amount than free range or organic counterparts.
Farmed salmon and trout had lower average dioxin levels and PCBs than those caught in the wild, and milk at farms had higher dioxin levels and DL-PCBs than bulk milk, the report concluded.
Uneven data spread
However, the data did not represent an even spread from across the region, as five Member States together provided more than half of the samples for dioxins and DL-PCBs.
Germany provided 23.8%, the UK 10.9%, Denmark 10.2%, Italy 9.2% and Norway 7.7% Bulgaria, Malta and Portugal did not submit any results.
Therefore, EFSA said that the results should be interpreted with some caution as the report did not take regional variations into account.
“On the one hand, food contamination and population exposure may have been overestimated due to targeted sampling.
“On the other hand, not all foods have been taken into account in the exposure assessment, which may have lead to an underestimation of total exposure in some population groups,” said the report, which is available here .