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Dioxins & PCBs in Food & Feed NRL

Fera is the UK National Reference Laboratory for Dioxins and PCBs in Food and Feed.

Dioxins, furans and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are a group of toxic and persistent chemicals whose effects on human health and on the environment include dermal toxicity, immunotoxicity, reproductive effects and teratogenicity, endocrine disrupting effects and carcinogenicity. The environment of these substances coupled with several accidents (Yusho (Japan), Yucheng (Taiwan), Seveso (Italy) have triggered a deep concern from the international community for their reduction and control. Moreover, there is considerable public, scientific and regulatory concern over the negative effects on human health and on the environment of long-term exposure to even the smallest amounts of dioxins and PCBs.

Analytical chemistry is used to support collaborative studies of environmental pathways of toxic chemicals, fundamental aspects of toxicology and health and an emergency and contingency response. This work area covers research and surveillance to ensure the safety of food with respect to chemical contaminants including a range of regulated and near-regulated organic environmental contaminants such as PCDD/Fs (dioxins and furans), PCBs and emerging contaminants.

Over the past two decades the Commission has proposed wide ranging legislation aimed at directly or indirectly reducing the release of these compounds into the environment, with the objective of reducing human exposure and protecting human health and the environment. Recent exposure data show that measures introduced to control dioxin releases have resulted in a substantial reduction in intake of these compounds: levels in humans are decreasing since the mid eighties. Since 1995 this tendency is levelling out, even slightly rising levels have been observed for some contaminants.

Competent Authority

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is designated as Competent Authority for the purposes of Regulation (EC) No. 882/2004 on Official Feed and Food Controls in the UK, for Fera Chemical Contaminants in Animal Feed NRL.

EU-RL Dioxins and PCBs in Feed and Food

The EU-RL for Dioxins and PCBs in Food and Feed aims to facilitate the implementation of European legislation related to monitoring of Dioxins and PCBs in Food and Feed. Under Regulation (EC) No. 776/2006 the European Union Reference Laboratory (EU-RL) for Dioxins and PCBs in Food and Feed is hosted by State Institute for Chemical and Veterinary Analysis of Food - Freiburg, Germany (Chemisches und Veterinäruntersuchungs-amt, CVUA) which is one of the official food control and animal health laboratories in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany.

EU-RL Dioxins and PCBs in Feed and Food website



Notice of New Limits 2012

New: March 2012

Commission Regulation (EU) No. 252/2012 of 21 March 2012 laying down methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of levels of dioxins, dioxin- like PCBs and non-dioxin-like PCBs in certain foodstuffs and repealing Regulation (EC) No. 1883/2006 as published on 23 March 2012 in the OJ.

Archived 25/02/13

Dioxins in Germany
(January 2011)

The following links may be useful:

Archived 25/02/13


Notice of New Limits 2012

The following have come into force with tighter limits and different TEFs (Toxic Equivalency Factors): Commission Regulation (EU) No. 1259/2011 of 2 December 2011 amending Regulation (EC) No. 1881/2006 as regards maximum levels for dioxins, dioxin-like PCBs and non dioxin-like PCBs in foodstuffs. These limits apply from 1st January 2012.

Action limits relating to these, for food have also been published - Commission Recommendation of 23rd August 2011 (2011/516/EU) on the reduction of the presence of dioxins, furans and PCBs in feed and food.

Dioxins in Irish Produce

Ireland's Food Safety Authority (FSAI) has confirmed that feed contaminated with dioxins has been fed to some cattle in Ireland. The FSAI has evaluated samples taken from affected herds and is satisfied that these samples raise no public health concern. - more information at

Irish Government announces that laboratory results on animal feed and pork fat samples, tested by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), confirm the presence of dioxins. - See below for further information

Dioxin contamination of Irish pork

On Saturday (6th December), the Irish Government announced that laboratory results on animal feed and pork fat samples, tested by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), confirmed the presence of dioxins.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has required the food industry to recall from the market all Irish pork products produced from pigs slaughtered in Ireland. This recall involves retailers, the hospitality sector and the Irish pig processing sector. Preliminary evidence indicates that the contamination problem is likely to have started in September 2008.

Investigations involving the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) and the FSAI are continuing to determine the extent of the contamination and to identify the processors and products involved as well as the source of contamination. The FSAI and other food authorities, including the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), are advising consumers, as a precautionary measure, not to consume Irish pork and bacon products at this time.

Dioxins are chemicals that get into food from the environment but they are associated with a range of health effects only when there is long term exposure at relatively high levels. Based on an assessment of international and national data, a short term peak exposure to dioxins is not associated with the adverse health effects observed in the Belgian Dioxin incident in 1999.

The FSAI confirms that, as part of its wide ranging deliberations on this aspect, its scientific experts have consulted widely with scientific experts in the European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organization, as well as with counterpart health risk assessors in the FSA (UK). In addition, the Department of Health & Children has consulted with the Belgian authorities regarding their population health monitoring.

More information

The following website articles will provide more information:


Chris Elliott, Professor of Food Safety at Queen's University Belfast:
"While consumers want (and deserve) food free from chemical contaminants, in this case there does not appear to be any significant risk to health from consumption of the tainted pork products. The contamination of the animal feed itself appears to be the cause of this food scare, as is often the case; it also appears to be limited to the product of one supplier and it should therefore be a quick and simple task to track down the cause of the problem. However, the effects on the Irish pork industry in relation to the loss of consumer confidence will not be so easy to resolve. Monitoring for Dioxins and other chemicals in foods is a difficult and expensive task. However some more thought must be given to try and identify such problems before food reaches the supermarket shelves."

Professor Alan Boobis, Toxicologist at Imperial College London:
"These compounds take a long time to accumulate in the body, so a relatively short period of exposure would have little impact on the total body burden. One would have to be exposed to high levels for a long period of time before there would be a health risk. Even the levels detected in these pigs are extremely low and present no immediate cause for concern, but it is prudent of the Irish government to recall the meat while scientists get to the bottom of this contamination."

Nicky Paull, President of the British Veterinary Association:
"The dioxin appears to have come in via contaminated by-products that are used as supplements to pig feed. Ireland has reacted very responsibly in recalling all pig meat - bearing in mind only 47 farms were affected - as by recalling everything consumers can be much more reassured. As regards the possible risk to humans dioxin is a carcinogen but there is certainly no acute toxicity risk. I am certain that the human health professionals will be able to give you a better steer on this. It will depend very much on the amount that any one person potentially may have consumed but we are talking about very tiny amounts. When figures are put on safety levels for any chemical there is then added a huge safety index form 100 x to 1000 x so when we hear that the levels found in the meat are 80 - 100 x the safe level we can be reassured that in real terms we are still talking about tiny amounts. However it was absolutely correct to act to remove any risk at all by recalling the products. Around 90% of UK produced pig meat is produced as farm assured which means there will be good traceability set up both for the pigs themselves but also for the pig feed. This should give us reassurance that if there are any issues regarding this in the UK pig industry the FSA will be able to track any problems closely."
Archived 07/07/11

Dioxins & PCBs in Food NRL Contact

Martin Rose

Tel: +44 (0) 1904 462655

Fax: +44 (0) 1904 462111

Email: Martin Rose