Environmental contaminants in foodstuffs

The final report of the research project "Foodborne exposure to environmental contaminants" (LExUKon) is now available. In this project scientists of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) have calculated, together with colleagues from the Research and Advisory Institute for Hazardous Substances (FoBiG) and the University of Bremen the amounts of cadmium, lead, mercury, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which consumers usually absorb with foods. According to the study, the main sources for cadmium intake are vegetables and cereals. Lead is primarily absorbed by consumers via beverages and cereals. Methylmercury is mainly contained in fish, whereas dairy products and meat are determining for dioxins and PCBs. "These findings are of high relevance for risk assessment", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "In this way a better assessment of the extent of a possible health risk through contaminated foodstuffs can be made by us". The project report has been published as a brochure (in German) and can be obtained from BfR.

Humans absorb not only valuable substances, such as vitamins and minerals, through foodstuffs but also undesirable substances, such as so-called environmental contaminants which can damage health in certain amounts. These include heavy metals and dioxins, which can migrate into foods through contamination of the air, the water or the soil. In order to be able to assess the risks of these substances, the question arises as to the amounts in which they occur in foodstuffs and the amounts consumers eat of these foodstuffs. This was the focus of the LExUKon project. Standardised methods were developed and applied for the assessment of the amounts of consumption and content data of foodstuffs with environmental contaminants.

This was possible through data from the National Consumption Study II (NVS II) of the Max Rubner Institute (MRI) and the food monitoring by the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). The intake of environmental contaminants through foodstuffs was determined for the general population, taking into account different consumption habits as well as individual lifestyles. It turned out, for instance, that consumers eat more fish as they grow older and hence absorb, amongst other things, more methylmercury than younger people.

The final report of the research project has been published as a BfR brochure (in German). It includes quantitative data on the extent to which consumers take in the environmental contaminants cadmium, lead, mercury, dioxins and PCBs through foodstuffs. The brochure can be downloaded free of charge on the BfR website www.bfr.bund.de. It can also be ordered by fax on 030-18412-4970 and by email on publikationen@bfr.bund.de.

About BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. BfR engages in research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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