The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on November 20 slashed its recommended limits in food of dioxins and related toxins—chemicals that have been linked to problems with reproductive health, the immune system, hormone levels, and tooth enamel.
Dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs are mainly by-products of industrial activities and can accumulate in the food chain, notably in fatty fish, cheese, eggs, and farmed meat.
New data and techniques for modeling how long dioxins stay in the body convinced EFSA that the maximum weekly intake should be cut to just 2 trillionths of a gram per kilogram of body weight—one seventh the previous limit, set in 2001.
The EFSA’s review of the risks of dioxins found the average exposure among all ages was now around five times the new recommended limit.
“These exceedances are a health concern,” said Ron Hoogenboom, who was on the review panel and chairs EFSA’s dioxins working group.
According to the World Health Organization, one of the most toxic types of dioxin is “TCDD.” Long-term exposure to TCDD is linked to impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system, and reproductive functions.
A study published in 2016 found that men exposed to dioxins may be less likely to father boys.
Dioxins have also been linked to poorer semen quality, higher levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone in newborns, and developmental defects in tooth enamel.
Following the update to EFSA’s advice, the European Commission, the EU executive, said it and member states would discuss steps to “ensure a high level of consumer protection.”