EFSA responds to Commission’s urgent request on dioxins in Irish pork

EFSA has today published its statement in response to a request received from the European Commission on 8 December 2008 for urgent scientific and technical assistance following the discovery of dioxin contamination in some Irish pork. The Commission asked EFSA to provide scientific assistance on the risks for human health related to the possible presence of dioxins in pork and products containing pork. 

EFSA’s key conclusions are:

  • In the most likely scenario, if someone ate an average amount of Irish pork each day throughout the period of the incident (90 days), 10% of which was contaminated at the highest recorded concentration of dioxins[1], the body burden[2] would increase by approximately 10%. EFSA considers this increase to be of no concern for this single event.
     
  • In a very extreme case, if someone ate a large amount of Irish pork each day throughout the period of the incident (90 days), 100% of which was contaminated at the highest recorded concentration of dioxins, EFSA concludes that the safety margin embedded in the tolerable weekly intake (TWI [3]) would be considerably undermined. Given that the TWI has a 10-fold built in safety margin, EFSA considers that this unlikely scenario would reduce protection, but not necessarily lead to adverse health effects.

EFSA has studied a limited data set provided by the Commission in relation to contamination levels and has taken into account the fat content of products containing pork, as well as consumption patterns across Europe. EFSA based its statement on the assumption that exposure at these high levels only began in September 2008 and that effective measures have now been taken to remove this excessive exposure from Irish pork and pork products.

The levels of dioxins in pork and pork products will depend on the fat content, because dioxins accumulate in the fat. The longer the exposure and the higher the fat content, the more dioxins accumulate and stay in the animal’s body. In humans, once exposure ends, the body burden begins to decrease.

EFSA has considered data on fat content and different contamination levels in products containing pork that have been withdrawn from sale such as sausages and pizzas. This analysis provides risk managers with a more detailed understanding of possible exposure levels.

[1] Assuming the pork eaten is contaminated at the highest reported levels of 200 picograms dioxins per gram of fat.
[2] The amounts of chemicals such as dioxins that accumulate and stay in the body over time.
[3] 14 picograms of dioxins per kilogram of body weight, ref EU Scientific Committee on Food (2001).

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