The food industry is worried a new Environmental Protection Agency proposal on dioxin, a group of toxic chemicals, could deem the average American diet dangerous.
After several years of deliberation, and a draft proposal, the EPA is expected to release a final guidance on dioxin exposure sometime this month.
Last month, the Food Industry Dioxin Working Group (FIDWG) — an ad hoc coalition made up of groups like United Egg Producers, the American Farm Bureau, and the American Frozen Food Institute — sent a letter to a senior White House policy adviser expressing “deep concern” over the effort. The letter was also sent to key officials at the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Health and Human Services, and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“We are particularly concerned with EPA’s plan to break from longstanding international science-based dioxin standards and split the reassessment into non-cancer and cancer risk assessments, while setting a reference dose (RfD) for non-cancer risk,” read the letter. “Since the agency contends the primary route of human exposure to dioxin is through food, this could not only mislead and frighten consumers about the safety of their diets, but could have a significant negative economic impact on all U.S. food producers.”
Pervasive environmental pollutants that also are naturally occurring, dioxins are released into the air during certain industrial processes, like cement production. The chemicals are absorbed by animals and can accumulate in the food chain, a reality that has concerned regulators and public health authorities because dioxins are linked to reproductive and developmental problems, immune system damage, and cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 90 percent of human exposure to dioxins is via food, particularly meat, dairy, fish and shellfish.
The industry group is particularly frustrated because EPA’s proposed standard is more stringent than other international standards, including standards set by the European Union, and WHO.
The level of dioxin exposure considered safe by EPA is expected to be .7 picograms of dioxin per kilogram of body weight per day. The limits set by WHO and the EU are between 1-4 picograms per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
“Under EPA’s proposal, this advice could no longer stand as nearly every American – particularly young children – could easily exceed the daily RfD after consuming a single meal or heavy snack,” according to the industry groups. “The implications of this action are chilling. EPA is proposing to create a situation in which most U.S. agricultural products could arbitrarily be classified as unfit for consumption. The impact on agricultural production – conventional, organic, livestock/poultry/dairy, fruits, grains and vegetables – may be significant, as will be the loss of trade markets, all without evidence of additional health protection.”
For more information on dioxin exposure, see FDA’s resource guide here.