Dioxin levels safe, FSA claims

The Food Standard Agency had said there are "no concerns for human health" over current food levels of dioxins and PCBs- environmental pollutants commonly found in meat.

The FSA tested 156 food samples, mainly from UK products, as part of a Europe-wide monitoring programme co-ordinated by the EC to help inform the next review of regulatory safety limits for dioxins and PCBs in food.

No foods in the UK exceeded existing regulatory limits and the agency concluded that there was no risk to health.

According to the survey: "None of the results for bovine, lamb, pig or poultry products were unusual. The highest dioxin levels were found in a sample of lamb mince which, at 1.55 pg/g fat, is just on action level. On a whole weight basis, the level has no implications for health."

Wild game was excluded from the study as insufficient data exists on which to base limits, but farmed game was included.

"On a fat basis, the PCBs in some samples of mallard, partridge and pigeon, as well as hare, were high compared to the typical levels found in chicken," said the survey.

"One sample of wild boar meat contained dioxins above the maximum limit applicable to pork, but there is no risk to human health.

"Dioxin and PCB levels are relatively high in gull eggs and mallard, but these are not widely eaten and only have a short season."

Dioxins are formed as unwanted by-products of combustion processes in a variety of industrial processes, such as waste incineration, household fires, bonfires and cigarette smoke.

PCBs are synthetic chemicals that were widely used as insulators and plasticisers. Their production and use has been discontinued but they are still present in older electrical equipment, plastic products, buildings and the environment.

The pollutants are found particularly in food containing fat, such as milk, meat, fish and eggs, and can accumulate in the body when eaten.

They are known to cause a wide range of toxic effects in animals, some of which can be seen at low doses and these effects may have consequences for human health.