Food industry says dioxin report will scare consumers

Feb 10, 2012
Food industry says dioxin report will scare consumers

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) missed their Jan. 31 deadline to release a report outlining federal guidelines on dioxin chemical exposure. Critics of EPA’s dioxin study say it is scientifically flawed, and will scare consumers.

The standards, when released, will be the first ever for maximum human-exposure level for dioxins.

“Numerous scientific reviews...have found significant fault with EPA’s dioxin risk assessment models and conclusions,” House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, said. “Yet, this administration continues to go down the wrong path, which could have far-reaching consequences for food production.”

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency was working on the report “as expeditiously as possible” but the agency did not have a new release date.

The American Chemistry Council is hopeful that EPA will spend a little more time working on the report. “While we would like to see EPA complete the dioxin reassessment, it is clear that the EPA has more work to do in order for the agency to release a complete and scientifically defensible dioxin assessment.”

In December, the Food Industry Dioxin Working Group (DWG), which includes industry organizations such as United Egg Producers, the American Farm Bureau and the American Frozen Food Institute, sent a letter to a senior White House policy adviser expressing concern over the report. The letter was also sent to key officials at EPA, USDA, Food and Drug Administration, Health and Human Services, and the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“The DWG believes that grossly inadequate exposure and consumption data, coupled with badly flawed statistical approaches, render the Dioxin Reassessment in its current form irrelevant to human health.

Yet that is just how it will be perceived by the consuming public and the media if it is released in its current form. It is EPA’s responsibility to revise this report in consultation with statisticians with expertise in food analyses who can help the Agency draw meaningful conclusions. To do otherwise will mislead the public and potentially create a health scare that doesn’t exist,” their letter says.

EPA scientists already concluded in a preliminary report that people shouldn’t consume more than 0.7 picogram of dioxin per kilogram of body weight a day, which is where the acceptable level is expected to be in the report. That is less than one trillionth of one gram.

“The implications of this action are chilling.”

Skin damage, diabetes and cancer are all linked to very high levels of dioxin exposure, according to the National Academies of Science’s Institute of Medicine.

If EPA finalized an RfD for dioxin, it would not be a regulatory action, but it could be used as the basis for future regulation and could have an impact on the general public’s diet choices. As DWG pointed out in their letter to the Obama administration, some common food items could easily put someone over the draft RfD. “Under EPA’s proposal... nearly every American— particularly young children—could easily exceed the daily RfD after consuming a single meal or heavy snack,” according to the industry groups. “The implications of this action are chilling. EPA is proposing to create a situation in which most U.S. agricultural products could arbitrarily be classified as unfit for consumption. The impact on agricultural production— conventional, organic, livestock/poultry/dairy, fruits, grains and vegetables—may be significant, as will be the loss of trade markets, all without evidence of additional health protection.”

EPA first began work on assessing the risks of dioxin exposure in the 1980s. The most recent human health reassessment was submitted by EPA to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2003. In 2006, NAS submitted recommendations to EPA on the reassessment. In May 2010, the agency released a draft reanalysis and the agency says it’s working expeditiously to get a final guidance out. EPA is under pressure from consumer groups and some lawmakers to release the dioxin assessment. “The American public has been waiting for the completion of this dioxin study since 1985 and cannot afford any further delays,” Rep. Edward Markey, D- MA, said in a letter to EPA. “Despite worldwide agreement about the toxicity of these chemicals and their persistence in the environment, EPA has yet to release its findings on how dangerous these chemicals are to public health.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor