Against a backdrop of dramatically reduced levels of dioxin in the environment and the food supply since the 1970s, the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) today released its report on risk management strategies to reduce human exposure to the compound. Significantly, the Committee on the Implications of Dioxins in the Food Supply refrained from suggesting regulatory limits on dioxin, acknowledging the lack of a definitive scientific database on dioxin levels, as well as a precise understanding of what levels trigger human health problems. Because “the health risks posed by dioxins in foods have yet to be ascertained,” as the committee noted, voluntary public-private collaboration in minimizing dioxin exposure -- especially among at-risk populations of young women and children -- is the preferred strategy.
We agree with that approach. Current data on dioxin levels in food products and animal feed and forage are inadequate. Moreover, more research is needed to determine at precisely what levels a bio-burden of dioxin begins to trigger health risks. Thus, we agree with the NAS that collection of adequate data to support any future public policy development should form the centerpiece of its recommendations.
Although the committee noted that fats in animal foods, such as meat, poultry, fatty fish, and whole milk, represent the principal source of dioxin exposure in foods, it is critical to remember that dioxin control begins in the environment. Any strategies for limiting human exposure must focus strongly on reducing environmental sources of the compound, such as industrial emissions. Reducing the amount of dioxin released into the environment has produced a correlating reduction in the levels of dioxin found in foods. Clearly, such reductions must remain a key to dioxin mitigation strategies.
Most importantly, the NAS committee recommended that consumers follow the Dietary Guidelines on fat intake to reduce potential intake of dioxin. The good news is that the meat and poultry industry has been responding to consumer demands for lower fat alternatives for the past 30 years. The industry continues to breed leaner animals and market closely trimmed fresh meat and low-fat processed meats that meet consumer demands.
We agree with the NAS advice that consumers follow the government’s dietary guidance on consumption of fat and eat a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods. That is the best way to reduce the risks from dioxin exposure, as well as promote a healthier, more nutritionally sound lifestyle.