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Daily News Archive

From December 3, 2001

Europe Sets Limits on Dioxin and Other Food Contaminants

Late last week the European Commission set legally binding limits on the presence of dioxins, furans, and PCBs in food. The regulation takes effect on July 1, 2002, and any food that exceeds these limits will be excluded from the food chain after that date.

These food safety measures are a critical component of the European Union Health and Consumer Protection Commission's (European Commission's) strategy to improve the safety of feed and food. The European Commission is the executive branch of the 15-nation European Union. Their strategy was created in response to food contamination problems in Europe's past, including those caused by dioxin and mad cow disease.

"Our strategy aims to deal with a complicated cycle of contamination necessitating simultaneous measures to reduce the presence of dioxins, furans and PCBs in feedingstuffs and foodstuffs," said European Commissioner, David Byrne. "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," Byrne added. He noted that very few other countries have set legally binding levels for dioxins in food.

Dioxins and furans can be found in commercial grade pentachlorophenol, which is a wood preservative still used in the United States. The National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health lists dioxin as a known carcinogen and furan as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." Dioxin and furan are listed among the most toxic chemicals ever created, and are classified as persistent organic pollutants by the United Nations Environment Programme.