Food Law News - EU - 2001

Commission Press Release (IP/01/1492), 25 October 2001

CONTAMINANTS - The Commission adopts strategy to reduce dioxins and PCBs in environment, feed and food

The European Commission today adopted a strategy to reduce the presence of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the environment, animal feed and food. Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: "Despite the progress already achieved in reducing dioxin emissions, further action is needed to reduce the presence of dioxins and PCBs in the environment through measures directed at their source. Therefore, the Commission has proposed an integrated approach to enhance the protection of human health and of the environment from the effects of dioxins and PCBs". Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said: "It is of ultimate importance to reduce the exposure to dioxins. That is why I am proposing strict maximum limits for dioxins in food and feed, which I expect the Health Council on 15th November will endorse. The implementation of these strict limits from 1st January next, will provide additional protection to European consumers from the long-term effects of dioxin consumption." The Communication from the Commission adopted today details further areas of action and will be submitted to the Council, the EP and the ESC.

The objectives of the strategy are to:

To reduce human exposure it is important to first reduce the levels of PCBs and dioxins present in the food chain, because food consumption is the most important source of human exposure (more than 90% of total exposure).

The most efficient way to reduce the levels in the food chain is to reduce environmental contamination by avoiding new releases into the environment and addressing "historical pollution".

Strategies for environment, feed and food

The Community Strategy for dioxins and PCBs consists of two parts. The first part identifies actions in the short-to-medium-term (5 years) covering hazard identification, risk assessment, risk management, research, communication to the public and co-operation with third countries and international organisations. It also identifies long-term actions (10 years) covering data collection, monitoring and surveillance. This will provide a comprehensive picture of the environmental dioxin/PCB problem and a good understanding of existing trends, which will permit further policy making and evaluation.

The second part proposes a strategy consisting of three pillars: the establishment of maximum limits in food and feed, action levels that act as a tool for the "early warning" of higher than desirable levels of dioxins in food or feed, and target levels in feed and food. These targets must be achieved in order to reduce exposure levels, to which a large part of the European population is subjected, to lower than the tolerable intake levels established by the Scientific Committee for Food.


In the 6th Environment Action Programme the overall environment-health objective is to achieve a level of environmental quality where the quantities of man-made contaminants present do not have a significant impact upon or provoke risks for human health. In the White Paper on Food Safety, the Commission identified the need to define standards for contaminants throughout the chain from feed to food. The Commission has already suggested legislation to establish maximum levels for food and feed (see IP/01/1045 and MEMO/01/270). The draft legislation will soon be discussed in the Council.

Dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) are a group of toxic and persistent chemicals that can cause severe environmental and health effects such as cancer, hormone disruption, reduced ability to reproduce, skin toxicity and immune system disorders. In the past two decades the Commission has taken a number of legislative initiatives concerning dioxins and PCBs. This has resulted in a substantial emission reduction.

However, new factors, such as evidence of accumulation in humans and animals and proof that the toxic properties of PCBs are more serious and have a broader impact on human health than previously assumed - even in very low doses - have underlined the need for action. This action should be aimed at further reducing emissions and avoiding the adverse health and environmental effects associated with dioxins and PCBs.

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