Europe Sets Binding Limits on Dioxin in Foods

BRUSSELS, Belgium, November 29, 2001 (ENS) - European Union Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne today welcomed the adoption by the European Council of a rule setting legally binding limits on the presence of dioxin and other contaminants in food.

Any food exceeding these strict limits will be excluded from the food chain after the regulation enters into force on July 1, 2002.

The food safety measures are a key element of the comprehensive strategy put forward to improve the safety of feed and food by the European Commission, the executive branch of the 15 nation European Union.

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EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne (Photo courtesy European Commission)
Byrne said, "Our strategy aims to deal with a complicated cycle of contamination necessitating simultaneously measures to reduce the presence of dioxins, furans and PCBs in environment, feedingstuffs and foodstuffs. While these measures offer protection of consumer health, the ultimate goal must be to further reduce dioxin release at the source, to stop it from entering the environment."

The strategy is a response to the dioxin contamination problems of the past that toppled Belgium's governing coalition in June 1999 following Europe's worst food contamination crisis since mad cow disease. Contaminated animal feed was blamed for causing dangerously high levels of the cancer causing chemical dioxin in Belgian chicken, beef, pork, eggs, milk and byproducts.

The original source of the contamination that entered the food chain in Belgium was waste PCB oils, possibly illegally disposed of into food oils which were then mixed into animal feed. Toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative, PCBs were banned from sale in the European Union in 1985 but can continue to be used in existing electrical transformers until 2010.

Byrne thanked the Belgian Presidency for facilitating a rapid agreement on the proposal the Commission put forward in July this year. An equivalent proposal setting maximum limits in feed was adopted by the Council on Tuesday.

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Dinner in the UK, one of the 15 European Union Member States, will have lower levels of contaminants once the new rule takes effect. (Photo courtesy Freefoto.com)
"I am pleased to see the Ministers recognize that we need to be uncompromising and severe on contaminants in food. This new legislation, in setting legally binding limits, sets a new milestone in the EU's feed and food safety strategy," Byrne said.

"Only very few countries in the world have yet set legally binding levels for dioxins in food. These measures, as part of a comprehensive strategy, will undoubtedly reduce the presence of dioxins in food," said Byrne.

The new rule is an amendment of the Commission regulation on maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs. It fixes what the Commission calls "strict but feasible maximum levels for dioxin in food."

Permission was granted by the Council to Finland and Sweden to continue marketing fish from the Baltic Sea exceeding the limits on their own territory for local consumption until 2006.

The maximum levels for dioxins and furans in food established by the new rule, form the first step of the measures concerning foodstuffs.

In a forthcoming Commission recommendation, the establishment of action levels and, over time, target levels for foodstuffs is foreseen which are lower than the maximum thresholds adopted today.

The action levels will act as a tool for early warning, triggering a proactive approach from authorities and operators to identify sources and pathways of contamination and to take measures to eliminate them.

The target levels are the levels to be achieved ultimately, acting as the driving force for measures which are necessary to further reduce emissions into the environment

In a separate Declaration attached to the Regulation, the Commission underlined the importance of national monitoring activities in the 15 EU Member States to verify the respect of the levels as set.

The declaration announces Commission initiatives for establishing concrete guidelines for this monitoring work, notably for the number of samples to be taken for each category of food. The data obtained from this and other monitoring exercises will form the basis for any further revision of the maximum levels adopted today.