The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of completing a long-term review of dioxin and its effects on humans through food consumption and environmental exposures, and is expected to publish a recommended daily dioxin exposure level of 0.7 picogram/kilogram body weight/day in the agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) by the end of January 2012. (The term "dioxin" is commonly used to refer to a family of toxic chemicals that share a similar chemical structure.) Members of the industry have expressed concern that the EPA’s recommended dioxin exposure level is three times lower than the tolerable daily intake value for dioxin established by the Joint UN Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). Further, the EPA’s impending recommendation on dioxin exposure has members of the food and agricultural industry greatly concerned, as approximately 95 percent of human exposure to dioxin is through ingestion of food – particularly meat, dairy, poultry and fish. The remaining 5 percent of dioxin exposure comes from environmental sources such as automotive exhaust and industrial emissions.
Even though the dietary dioxin intake in the average American’s diet is about 0.6 pg/kg-bw/day, or slightly lower than the 0.7 pg/kg-bw/day exposure level being considered by the EPA, when the EPA factors in dioxin exposure as it relates to cancer, the agency’s recommended dioxin exposure level falls to approximately 0.1 pg/kg bw/day, or lower (the EPA plans to finalize its recommendation for dioxin exposure as it relates to cancer soon after it publishes its above noted general exposure recommendation). The food industry is concerned that news about dioxin exposure may cause Americans to change their eating habits by eating less meat, dairy, poultry, and fish, in order to reduce their dioxin exposure/cancer risk. Moreover, such changes in dietary habits could undermine the government’s own “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” which recommends consumption of the above listed foods based on their contribution to a healthy diet.
Given these food industry concerns, and the discrepancy between the EPA’s proposed exposure limit for dioxin and the exposure limit established by WHO, many in the industry believe it would be prudent for the EPA to take more time in determining the validity of its dioxin recommendation before publishing such results in its IRIS database. We are continuing to follow developments related to this issue, and will provide an update when new developments occur.