Foods tainted in the wake of the dioxin contamination scandal in Germany pose no health threat to consumers, said the country’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) following the first detailed appraisal of the incident.
The body said it had assessed health risks on the basis of the content of the toxic chemical detected in eggs, pork meat, poultry meat and dairy products by German state authorities in the aftermath of episode which broke in late December.
"Even if eggs or pork meat with contents in the range of the highest measured values were consumed over a longer period of time during the past months, no health risk is to be expected", said Professor Dr Andreas Hensel, BfR president.
The incident surfaced when German company Harles & Jentzsch was found to have sold an estimated 3,000 tonnes of dioxin contaminated animal feed additive onto the market, which could have potentially tainted up to 200,000 tonnes of feed, said European Commissioner for Health and consumer protection John Dalli.
The vast majority of meat, dairy and eggs from animals that consumed the feed never reached the market but some did – most notably liquid eggs that were used as an ingredient for quiches and cakes in the UK and sold in supermarkets.
In addition, there were only in a few cases in which the dioxin-content in eggs, meat from laying hens and pork were found above the statutory maximum amounts. There were no cases where dairy products or poultry meat were found to contain illegal levels of the chemical, said the BfR.
In response to consumer concern, the agency said it carried out a risk assessment based on daily consumption of two eggs and estimated how this would affect a person’s “body burden”. This is defined as the amount of dioxins a human has ingested as a result of daily background exposure up to a certain point in their life that remain in the body over the long-term.
The BfR explained that for substances like dioxins it is not the daily intake dose but the amount in the body, i.e. the body burden, which is a decisive measure of the health impact.
They concluded that based on a scenario where two eggs (of 60 grams) per day were eaten over a longer period of time, which had the highest measured content of 12 picograms per gram fat per meal, the body burden increased only slightly.
“According to this worst case scenario, the body burden of a young adult would hardly increase in the course of a month from 10.0 picograms per gram body fat to 10.336 picograms per gram body fat,” said the BfR
It added that even if somebody had eaten foods with the highest measured dioxin contents for a year, the body burden would only “moderately increase”. The consumption of 730 eggs with the highest measured dioxin content in the course of a year would increase body burden by 4 picograms to 14 picograms per gram body fat - a jump of 40 per cent.
These more detailed findings echo earlier statements from food safety agencies in Germany, the UK and Denmark, as well as the European Commission, that the levels of dioxins that passed through the food chain from the animal feed into products posed no risk to human health.