EPA dioxin limit has National Chicken Council worried products could be declared “unfit for consumption”

EPA dioxin limit has National Chicken Council worried

Dioxin, industrial pollutant of Agent Orange infamy, has been called “the most toxic compound synthesized by man.” Not only is dioxin considered a known human carcinogen, adverse health effects may include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, endometriosis, early menopause, reduced testosterone and thyroid hormones, altered metabolism and immune responses, and skin, tooth, and nail abnormalities. Exposure during pregnancy can result in altered thyroid, brain, immune system, and reproductive organ development.

The Environmental Protection Agency start testing Americans’ tissues for dioxin levels back in 1982, and after 3 decades of delay is releasing new guidelines this month that would set limits on the safe exposure of U.S. consumers to this class of toxic chemicals. In response, the National Chicken Council, American Meat Institute, and other industry groups complained to the White House that their products “could arbitrarily be classified as unfit for consumption.” But the classification wouldn’t be arbitrary at all; it would be based on the level of dioxin contamination in the food.

Warning consumers about the risk could “scare the crap out of people,” the industry groups contend, and “have a significant negative economic impact on all U.S. food producers.” But that’s not true either. According to the Food and Drug Administration, “over 95% [of dioxin exposure is] coming through dietary intake of animal fats.”

The only reason “nearly every American – particularly young children – could easily exceed the daily RfD [reference dose exposure limit] after consuming a single meal” is because Americans currently eat so much meat, eggs, and dairy.

Consumer food safety champion Caroline Smith DeWaal praised the EPA’s decision to set a dioxin safety limit but stressed the agency needs to take it a step further: “Having a limit is always a good thing, but consumers will need to know how to translate it into their daily diet.” Eating low on the food chain is the best strategy to reduce one’s risk, but does not eliminate exposure (see Industrial Pollutants in Vegans). In my Dioxins in the Food Supply video I run through the latest USDA and EPA survey data of the level of dioxins and dioxin-like pollutants in the American food supply.

Fish is the most contaminated (see Farmed Fish vs. Wild-Caught, The Problem with Organic Salmon, and Is Distilled Fish Oil Toxin-Free?). In fact, the levels of dioxins and other pollutants in the body can be used as a biomarker for fish consumption (see Hair Testing for Mercury). Second only to fish in terms of industrial toxic waste in our food supply, is eggs (see also Food sources of PCB chemical pollutants). Third most contaminated is dairy. The National Cheese Institute and International Ice Cream Association also predictably opposed the EPA dioxin limit, fearing it “would scare consumers away from our products.”

-Michael Greger, M.D.

Image credit: MissMessie / Flickr

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  • Michael Greger M.D.

    So great to see all these mentions. Thank you, Michele, for linking from your fantastic blog Appetite for Profit.

  • Dan Lundeen

    Time for an update? So what is the current state of the Rule on dioxin limits?

    • Dioxin is a manufactured product that our bodies only can eliminate very slowly. The half life is considered to be about 6-7 years but these estimates are based on industrial exposures and may not be accurate for other situations. For me as a clinician and concerned with health I advise all my patients to minimize dioxin intake… the idea that there are limits for non natural substances such as dioxin is not in the best interests for consumers in my opinion.

  • Alison Strauss

    Dr. Greger. I am wondering about endometriosis. My 21 year old daughter was diagnosed two years ago with stage 2 endometriosis after two years in pain. Her presentation wasn’t typical; periods started at 14 and were very irregular (only a few a year),light and no pain. At 17 she started getting pain at all times and severe constipation. Diagnosed with PCOS at 18 and put on birth control but pain continued. She just went off syneral after 1 year and is not responding to birth control. She has severe headaches and nausesa. She is off Linzess after almost two years by eating 2 kiwi a day. Are there any food or “natural treatments” to stop or slow the endometriosis? This cocktail of hormones is making her life very difficult and it is scary. She is now eating almost completely plant based diet, other than the occasional college slip up but I am afraid diet alone can’t stop this.

    • Cassie

      I too suffer from endometriosis. I belong to a fb support group called Nancy’s Nook, she may find that helpful. They have lots of good information.


  • Ezmerelda

    As a Medical Doctor diagnosed with endometriosis, I am struggling to find any evidence based nutritional information on this condition anywhere, nor gynaecologists who incorporate or discuss diet into their management of endometriosis. Considering approximately 10% (!) of women suffer this chronic, incurable, inflammatory condition, which places women at higher risk of a swathe of other chronic conditions, a review or video on this topic could make a difference to so many. Thanks for considering