Industry Wary of FDA Dioxin Guidelines


The following article is from the Wall Street Journal:

by Bill Tomson

Farmers and the food industry are asking the Obama administration to ease coming federal guidance that will advise consumers to minimize their intake of dioxins, chemicals that may be harmful at certain levels.

The standards would, for the first time, set a limit on how much dioxin Americans can be exposed to and still be safe. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release the guidelines in January.

Dioxins are a byproduct of paper, metal and cement production, but the primary source of exposure for people is food. Meat and dairy products in particular absorb the chemicals, which are ubiquitous in the environment and get into what livestock eat, especially if the animals graze. When ingested at high levels, dioxins are linked to human reproductive problems, acute skin conditions and cancer.

Scientists generally agree that dioxins are poisonous, but some disagree with the EPA’s conclusions that the small amounts people are exposed to through food today are dangerous.

Food producers, grocery suppliers and restaurants are concerned the EPA will set a safety threshold for dioxin that is below the amount a typical American gets from food. They warn that would unnecessarily alarm consumers.

“EPA is proposing to create a situation in which most U.S. agricultural products could arbitrarily be classified as unfit for consumption,” the three groups and others wrote in a letter to the White House in December. “The implications of this action are chilling.” The groups include the American Frozen Food Institute, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Chicken Council.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest, praised the EPA’s decision to set a safety limit for dioxin exposure but stressed the agency also needs to advise people how to use it. “Having a limit is always a good thing, but consumers will need to know how to translate it into their daily diet,” she said.

Industry observers expect the dioxin limit to be similar to a preliminary one the agency set last year, which said people shouldn’t consume more than 0.7 picograms of dioxin per kilogram of body weight a day. For example, a person who weighs 100 pounds would be limited to ingesting 32 picograms of dioxin per day, and a person who weighs 200 pounds would be limited to about 64 picograms per day. A picogram is one trillionth of a gram. An EPA spokeswoman said the final level to be set this month could differ.

While the EPA report may not specifically mention food, the industry is worried that because food is the primary source of dioxins for most people, a typical diet will cause most Americans to surge past the new exposure limit.

“Nearly every American—particularly young children—could easily exceed the daily [dioxin limit proposed by the EPA] after consuming a single meal or heavy snack,” the food groups said in the letter. The groups said the preliminary level proposed by the EPA is more than three times as stringent as the thresholds deemed safe by the World Health Organization and the European Union.

Laurie Haws, a toxicologist formerly at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and a resource expert for the World Health Organization, said all age groups consume at least twice the limit that the EPA initially proposed. A typical hot dog contains more dioxin in a single meal than a 2-year-old should consume on a daily basis, Ms. Haws said.

The EPA spokeswoman said the final report would take public comments into consideration. The agency is setting the limits out of concern that people whose exposure routinely exceeds a safe level over long periods of time are in danger of developing health problems. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Children are more susceptible to dioxin than adults because they weigh less, according to Arnold Schecter, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Texas and a science advisory board member of a 2011 EPA dioxin review panel.

The best way people can cut down on their dioxin intake is to eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat, especially meat with a high fat content, Prof. Schecter said. Cows, pigs, chickens and fish consume dioxins when they feed, and the chemicals build up in the animals’ fatty tissue.

Regulations put in place in 1980s on companies that once emitted dioxins into the air by burning medical and other waste have dramatically reduced environmental contamination, according to the EPA. Forest fires and people who burn trash now account for most of the dioxin released into the environment.

The EPA says it remains concerned about because dioxins released into the air settle onto the ground and are often eaten by grazing animals.

Source:  Wall Street Journal

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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