Publication of report by the independent Committee on Toxicity into the 'cocktail effect' of pesticides
Monday 14 October 2002
Ref: R490 - 33
The independent Committee on Toxicity (COT) today published its report into the possible effects on human health of mixtures of pesticides and similar substances in food, the so-called 'cocktail effect'.
At the request of the Food Standards Agency, the Committee's working group - WiGRAMP - conducted a 20-month long assessment of existing scientific information and data and considered any implications for the risk assessment of pesticides and veterinary medicines used in agriculture.
The Committee concluded that the probability of any health hazard from exposure to mixtures of chemicals present at low levels, as is the case in food, is likely to be small, and that children and pregnant or nursing women are unlikely to be any more vulnerable to the cocktail effect than the general population. However, the Working Group also noted that the body of evidence in this area is limited, and it is possible that some interactions of chemicals are not readily predictable.
Professor Frank Woods, Chair of the WiGRAMP, and previous Chairman of the COT, said:
'Following an extensive review of all available scientific documentation and information provided by a variety of official and expert bodies, the COT Working Group was able to conclude that there is only a very small risk to human health of the 'cocktail effect' of pesticides and veterinary medicines.
'In order to reduce the risk still further, the COT Working Group has made a number of key recommendations to the Food Standards Agency and other bodies responsible for pesticides and veterinary medicines in the UK, which it is hoped will form the basis of future developments in this area.'
Key recommendations from the Working Group were:
- that changes are made to the approvals system so that the bodies responsible for authorising pesticides and veterinary medicines in the UK be required to consider all sources of exposure.
- that a scientific and systematic framework be established to evaluate when it is appropriate to carry out combined risk assessments of exposures to more than one pesticide and/or veterinary medicine.
- that the Agency carry out further research on possible human exposure to mixtures of chemicals present in pesticides and veterinary medicines.
As well as members of COT, the Working Group also included independent experts and officials from the Pesticides Safety Directorate, Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Health and Safety Directorate - all organisations that are responsible for pesticides and veterinary medicines in the UK.
The Food Standards Agency, working with the Pesticides Safety Directorate, Veterinary Medicines Directorate and Health and Safety Directorate, will be publishing an Action Plan for carrying out the recommendations of the report in the near future. Additionally, a new research programme is being established to take forward specific recommendations by the COT relating to research. This will include steps aimed at minimising pesticide residues in food in line with the policy agreed by the Board at its June 2002 meeting.
Andrew Wadge, Head of Chemical Safety and Toxicology at the Food Standards Agency, said:
'The Working Group set out to investigate what is known about interactions between pesticides, and inform the Agency of any potential implications for human health. The balance of evidence so far suggests that consumers do not need to change their eating habits but should continue to eat a diet that includes plenty of fruit and vegetables.'
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