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.