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Contaminants in feed

Contaminants are substances that have not been intentionally added to food or feed. These substances may be introduced into feed from either natural sources (e.g., mycotoxins that are produced by fungi) or during the manufacturing processes. They may also result from environmental contamination.

The most relevant feed contaminants include:

  • Natural toxins. Toxins are naturally occurring substances that are produced by different organisms. Examples include plant toxins such as alkaloids or mycotoxins.
  • Environmental contaminants and heavy metals. Environmental contaminants are man-made substances present in air, water or soil. Examples of environmental contaminants include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, persistent chlorinated pesticides, and brominated flame retardants. Heavy metals also enter the food chain through the environment, where their presence is either natural or caused by industrial emissions.

Contaminants present in animal feed may pose a risk to animal health.

Milestones

2018 EFSA confirms the conclusion of previous assessments that dietary exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs – environmental pollutants present at low levels in food and feed – is a health concern. Data from European countries indicate an exceedance of EFSA’s new tolerable intake level across all age groups.

2018-2017 EFSA assesses the risks to animal health related to the following mycotoxins in feed: zearalenone; fumonisins; deoxynivalenol.

2015 EFSA publishes a scientific opinion on the risks to animal and public health and the environment related to the presence of nickel in feed. Experts conclude that the presence of nickel in feed is unlikely to have adverse effects on production animals, horses and cats.

2014 EFSA proposes a new process for identifying emerging chemical risks in the food and feed chain using a variety of databases that log the incidence of industrial chemicals and environmental chemical contaminants in the EU. The framework would enable risk assessors to anticipate contamination of the food/feed chain by chemical hazards that have not yet been assessed by EFSA or other similar bodies.

2011 EFSA publishes a scientific opinion on the presence in food and feed of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, toxins produced naturally by several plant species, most of which are weeds. Sources of food and feed may be contaminated with PA toxins through contact with these plants.

2009 EFSA completes the final opinion in a series of 30 risk assessments undertaken over the last five years looking at undesirable substances in animal feed.This follows a request of the European Commission to review the possible risks to animal and human health from the presence of these substances in animal feed.

EFSA’s role

EFSA carries out risk assessments of contaminants that can be present in feed due to feed production, distribution, packaging or consumption, as well as those that might be present in the environment naturally or as a result of man-made activity.

This work is carried out by EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain.

Experts assess the risk that contaminants pose to animal health, the environment and human health (through the carry-over of these compounds from feed to food of animal origin).

The Authority also collects occurrence data on contaminants in feed and supports the coordination of data collection and monitoring by Member States.

Risk managers such as the European Commission and Member States take EFSA’s scientific advice into account together with other factors when making decisions about the safety of these substances for animal health and the environment. They may take measures to limit human and animal exposure to such substances if EFSA indicates a potential health impact.

EU framework

The aim of EU legislation on undesirable substances in animal nutrition is to ensure that feed is put into circulation only if they are sound, genuine and of merchantable quality and, when correctly used, do not represent any danger to human health, animal health or the environment or do not adversely affect livestock production.

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