Survey of dioxins and PCBs in foods published
Wednesday 27 June 2007
As part of a Europe-wide monitoring programme co-ordinated by the European Commission (EC), the Agency has today published a survey looking at the levels of dioxins and PCBs in a wide range of foods.
In total, 156 food samples, mainly from UK products, were bought from stores across the UK during 2006. The results will be sent to the EC to help inform the next review of regulatory safety limits for dioxins and PCBs in our food. No foods in the UK survey exceeded existing regulatory limits and so the levels found do not pose a health risk.
The survey found that:
- none of the samples contained levels of dioxins, or dioxins plus dioxin-like PCBs, above current limits
- one sample of wild boar meat contained dioxins above the maximum limit applicable to pork, but there is no risk to health
- dioxin and PCB levels are relatively high in gull eggs and mallard, but these are not widely eaten and have only a short season
The European Commission first introduced regulatory limits for dioxins in food in 2001 and these were reviewed in 2005-6 with additional limits for dioxins plus dioxin-like PCBs coming into force in November 2006. A further review of dioxin and dioxin-like PCB limits is to be undertaken by end of December 2008 and the results of this current survey will help inform that review.
Dioxins are formed as unwanted by-products of combustion processes in a variety of industrial processes, such as waste incineration, and household fires, bonfires and cigarette smoke. PCBs are synthetic chemicals that were widely used as insulators and plasticisers. Their production and use has now been discontinued, but they are still present in older electrical equipment, plastic products, buildings and the environment.
These environmental pollutants are found particularly in food containing fat, such as milk, meat, fish and eggs and when eaten they can accumulate in the body. They are known to cause a wide range of toxic effects in animals, some of which have been seen at very low doses. These effects may have consequences for human health. Strict controls on industrial discharges came into effect during the 1990s, which has resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of dioxins and PCBs released into the environment over the past ten years.