Millions of euros poured into food contaminants

Related tags European union

A lack of integration at a European level is 'severely hampering'
efforts to co-ordinate stakeholder efforts - food industry and
independent scientists - in the area of chemical contaminants in
food, warn Swedish scientists. But Commission funds worth €14
million should help to redress the situation.

The sign off of the funds will take place this week, benefitting 18 different European research centres - co-ordinated by the Swedish Karolinska Institutet - which together will form a durable 'European Network of Excellence' in food safety. The focus will lie on the action of complex mixtures of chemical contaminants on hormonal systems.

"Hormone disrupting agents, acting through nuclear receptors, are known to be involved in many different pathological processes, such as tumour development and growth, metabolic disease and obesity, and coronary heart disease,"​ said the Swedish institute in a statement this week.

Under the initial 5-year contract, molecular biologists, chemists, epidemiologists, ecotoxicologists, physiologists and endocrinologists involved in the programme - called CASCADE - will focus on the mechanisms of action of the chemical residues and their levels in the food chain. They will also develop common sampling techniques for those involved in the food chain - food manufacturers for example - and the identification of biological markers to assess any health risks the contaminants might constitute for humans.

According to the scientists, specific focus groups will be women, newborn children and other susceptible populations.

Of particular interest for manufacturers and ingredients suppliers involved in health linked ingredients will be a new approach for the network that will aim to develop strategies to take any beneficial effects of certain natural food constituents into consideration in the overall risk analysis.

"We are extremely excited over this opportunity to participate in the establishment of a new and highly competitive infrastructure for European research in the area of food toxicology,"​ said co-ordinator Professor Jan-åke Gustafsson​ at the department of biosciences of the Karolinska Institutet in Huddinge.

This is not another research project. We are glueing 16 institutes and two companies into one unity. No single country has enough competence by itself to solve the problem, added vice-coordinator Ingemar Pongratz.

Eagerly anticipated by national governments, consumer groups and food manufacturers alike, results from the network will include a provision of 'rationalised information' for a balanced risk assessment of food contaminants.

Chemical contaminants in food recently hit the headlines across Europe and North America, demonstrating the sensitivity of this issue, when a study published in the January 2004 issue Science​ sparked concerns among consumer and government alike about the levels of 14 organochlorine contaminants - long prohibited in the EU - in samples of farmed and wild salmon.

Raising the alarm, the Canadian researchers found that carcinogens PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other environmental toxins are present at higher levels in farm-raised salmon than in their wild counterparts. The UK TDI (Tolerable Daily Intake) for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs is 2 pg WHO-TEQ/kg bodyweight/day.

At the time, David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection sought to calm fears, telling Members of the European Parliament, 'I would remind you that worldwide, only the European Union and Korea have adopted maximum levels for dioxins in feed and food.'

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