Scientific Opinion on the risk to public health related to the presence of high levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in liver from sheep and deer

Dioxins, PCBs, sheep liver, occurrence, consumption, exposure, risk assessment
First published in the EFSA Journal
19 July 2011
5 July 2011
Scientific Opinion


EFSA was asked by the European Commission to deliver a scientific opinion on the risk to public health related to the presence of high levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in liver from sheep and deer. The opinion should also explore possible reasons for these high findings. Moreover, EFSA was asked whether dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) levels for liver should better be expressed on fresh weight rather than on a fat basis. The Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) evaluated dioxin and PCB results from 332 sheep liver, 175 sheep meat and 9 deer liver samples submitted by eight European countries and estimated the exposure through consumption of sheep liver for adults (consumers only) and children. Regular consumption of sheep liver would result on average in an approximate 20 % increase of the median background exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs (DL-PCBs) for adults. On individual occasions, consumption of sheep liver could result in high intakes exceeding the tolerable weekly intake (TWI). The CONTAM Panel concluded that the frequent consumption of sheep liver, particularly by women of child-bearing age and children, may be a potential health concern. Additional intake of non dioxin-like PCBs (NDL-PCBs) from consumption of sheep liver does not add substantially to the total dietary intake. The range of fat content in sheep liver is considerably narrower than for a number of other food categories regulated in Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006. Therefore, the CONTAM Panel sees no need to change the basis for expression of results and maximum levels solely for liver from fat weight to fresh weight basis. A lower activity of CYP1A enzymes in sheep than in cattle was identified as a possible reason for higher dioxin and DL-PCB levels in sheep liver.

Panel members at the time of adoption

Jan Alexander, Diane Benford, Alan Raymond Boobis, Sandra Ceccatelli, Bruce Cottrill, Jean-Pierre Cravedi, Alessandro Di Domenico, Daniel Doerge, Eugenia Dogliotti, Lutz Edler, Peter Farmer, Metka Filipič, Johanna Fink-Gremmels, Peter Fürst, Thierry Guérin, Helle Katrine Knutsen, Miroslav Machala, Antonio Mutti, Martin Rose, Josef Rudolf Schlatter and Rolaf van Leeuwen
Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain
contam [at]
EFSA Journal 2011;9(7):2297
Question Number
On request from
European Commission