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Dioxins and PCBs


Sampling/Method of Analysis

Commission Regulation (EC) No 1883/2006 (OJ L364, p32, 20/12/2006) of 19 December 2006 laying down methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in certain foodstuffs

Commission Recommendations

Commission Recommendation 2006/88/EC (OJ L42, p26, 14/02/2006 ) of 6 February 2006 on the reduction of the presence of dioxins, furans and PCBs in feedingstuffs and foodstuffs

Commission Recommendation 2006/794/EC (OJ L322, p24, 22/11/2006 ) of 16 November 2006 on the monitoring of background levels of dioxins, dioxin-like PCBs and non-dioxin-like PCBs in foodstuffs

National Legislation

European Communities (Certain Contaminants in Foodstuffs) Regulations, 2010 ( S.I. No. 218 of 2010 )

Amended by:

European Communities(Certain Contaminants in Foodstuffs)(Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. 276 of 2012)
European Communities(Certain Contaminants in Foodstuffs)(Amendment)(No. 2) Regulations 2012 (S.I. 348 of 2012)

'Dioxins' encompass a group of 75 polychlorinated dibeno-p-dioxins, (PCDD) and 135 polychlorinated dibenzofuran (PCDF) congeners.

The European Commission is working towards a comprehensive policy on control of dioxins in food and feed. The approach being adopted to control dioxins in both food and feed is the setting of maximum limits for dioxins in foodstuffs/feedstuffs and action and target levels which form part of a more proactive approach. In the future, it is envisaged that limits will also be set for dioxin-like PCBs. Simultaneously, efforts are being made to develop source directed measures focusing on the environment. The Commission set out the Community strategy for dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls in October 2001 in its Communication to the Council, the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee: Community Strategy for Dioxins, Furans and Polychlorinated Biphenyls 

The Regulations set levels for dioxins in the following food group: meat, fish, eggs, milk, fats and oils. Commission Recommendation 2006/794/EC on the monitoring of the background presence of dioxins, furans and dioxin-like PCBs in foodstuffs recommends that the minimum frequency of samples to be analysed yearly should be that as foreseen in the table of Annex I. The frequency of the samples should be reviewed each year in the light of the experience gained. In July 2004, the EU Commission published Guidelines for the enforcement of provisions on dioxins in the event of non-compliance with the maximum levels for dioxins in food. 

‘Dioxins’ as referred to in Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 cover a group of 75 polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin (PCDD) congeners and 135 polychlorinated dibenzofuran (PCDF) congeners, of which 17 are of toxicological concern. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of 209 different congeners which can be divided into two groups according to their toxicological properties: a small number exhibit toxicological properties similar to dioxins and are therefore often termed ‘dioxin-like PCBs’. The majority do not exhibit dioxin-like toxicity but have a different toxicological profile.

Each congener of dioxins or dioxin-like PCBs exhibits a different level of toxicity. In order to be able to sum up the toxicity of these different congeners, the concept of toxic equivalency factors (TEFs) has been introduced to facilitate risk assessment and regulatory control. This means that the analytical results relating to all the individual dioxin and dioxin-like PCB congeners of toxicological concern are expressed in terms of a quantifiable unit, namely the ‘TCDD toxic equivalent’ (TEQ).

In 2001 maximum levels were set for dioxins only and not for dioxin-like PCBs, given the very limited data available at that time on the prevalence of dioxin-like PCBs. However, since then more data on the presence of dioxin-like PCBs have become available, therefore, maximum levels for the sum of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs were set in 2006 as this is the most appropriate approach from a toxicological point of view. In order to ensure a smooth transition, the levels for dioxins should continue to apply for a transitional period in addition to the levels for the sum of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs. Foodstuffs must comply during that transitional period with the maximum levels for dioxins and with the maximum levels for the sum of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs.

Last reviewed: 25/10/2012

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