A review by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) into dioxin contamination in the Irish food chain concludes that levels in home produced foods are currently extremely low and pose no risk to consumers.
The FSAI recently published a discussion paper on the issue which was prepared in response to consumer concerns regarding possible contamination of food supplies with dioxins and the potential impact on food if incineration technology was introduced in Ireland to keep up with EU recycling and waste management quotas.
According to Alan Reilly, the FSAI's deputy chief executive, dioxins are primarily formed as a result of incomplete combustion of waste material, and the main source of dioxins in Ireland is from uncontrolled burning of domestic waste, which can enter the food chain through the air, soil or vegetation.
"A priority task for the FSAI since it was established in 1999 has been to monitor levels of dioxins in the Irish food supply. A number of studies carried out by the FSAI over the past three years on foods likely to be contaminated by these environmental pollutants have concluded that levels in Irish-produced foods are extremely low and that consumers of these foods are not at risk," said Reilly. "It is estimated that 90 per cent of human exposure results from the consumption of dioxin-contaminated food, mainly foodstuffs of animal origin such as meat, fish, milk and dairy produce. But we are satisfied with our data, showing that Irish consumers are currently exposed to very low levels of dioxins in food."
Reilly stated that Ireland is the only country in the EU without municipal waste incineration facilities. A number of facilities designed to burn waste at temperatures in excess of 850 degrees C at which temperature dioxins are destroyed, are included in the national waste management strategic plan.
"We also looked at whether the introduction of incineration facilities would result in a higher level of dioxins being produced in Irish foods. A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency analysed sources of dioxin in the Irish environment and the efficiencies of modern incineration technology.
"The FSAI's conclusion is that given modern incinerators destroy dioxins by burning waste at over 850 degrees C, any introduction of such systems to Ireland, if properly managed should not contribute to increasing dioxin levels in the Irish food supply. In addition, again with proper management being imperative, incinerations should not affect food quality or safety," continued Reilly.
"However, any such development would require strict observation programmes and ongoing environmental monitoring in the immediate areas of any planned incineration sites in order to maximise consumer protection," concluded Reilly.
The FSAI is encouraging interested parties to comment on its paper which is now available on its website www.fsai.ie.