Food regulator calls for further measures to lower PCBs

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Polychlorinated biphenyl Efsa

After an evaluation of a special class of polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCB),the EU's food safety regulator has issued a call for a
continued effort to lower their levels in foods.

The advice could lead to more regulation on food and food ingredients toreduce the levels, especially in milk and fish products. The assessment by theEuropean Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is part of an overall programme toincrease food safety in the bloc. PCBs are a class of cancer causing toxinsfound in food and feed.

PCBs cover a group of 209 different chemicals that can be divided into twogroups according to their toxicological properties. One group show toxicologicalproperties similar to dioxins and are therefore called "dioxin-like PCB"(DL-PCB).

These have previously been assessed for risk by the EFSA. The other type ofPCB, referred to as "non dioxin-like PCB" (NDL-PCB), have not beenpreviously evaluated. Both groups of PCB are usually found in feed and food.

PCB were widely used in a number of industrial and commercial applications.EFSA estimates that more than one million tons of PCB mixtures were produced world-wide since their first commercial use in the late 1920s.

Although the manufacture, processing and distribution of PCB has been prohibited in almost all industrial countries since the late 1980s, their entry into the environment still occurs, especially due to improper disposal practices or leaks in electrical equipment and hydraulic systems still in use. PCB are highly persistent and are globally circulated by atmospheric transport and thus are present inthe environmental.

The PCB mixtures contain both DL and NDL-PCB. In its latest study EFSAfocuses on the risks posed by NDL-PCB.

In farm animals exposed to the toxin, NDL-PCB accumulates in meat, liver andparticularly in fat tissues. In addition, NDL-PCB will be transferred into milkand eggs, and levels in these products will reach a steady state followingexposure over a period of several weeks.

PCB 138 and 153, both with six chlorine atoms, show the highest carry-overinto milk and eggs, somewhere about 50 per cent to 60 per cent. After exposureends, levels in eggs and milk initially decrease rapidly to about 50 per cent,followed by a slower elimination phase. In fattened animals like calves,piglets, and poultry, and also farmed fish, no steady state is obtained, asthese animals are slaughtered at a young age.

More than 90 per cent of the NDL-PCB exposure in the general population isvia such foods.

Average daily dietary intakes of total NDL-PCB indicates that young childrenunder six years of age and certain populations, such as Baltic Sea fishermen,have higher levels of exposure than others. Breastfed infants may have a NDL-PCBintake twice the level of adult exposure, EFSA found.

Based on its studies of human milk the regulator found that on average humanshad about 1/50 the amount of NDL-PCB exposore considered to be toxic. Theregulator stressed that due to the uncertainty of its calculations the truelevel might be larger.

"Because some individuals and some European (sub)-populations may beexposed to considerably higher average intakes, a continued effort to lower thelevels of NDL-PCB in food is warranted,"​ EFSA stated in its study.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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