Food Sources of PCB Chemical Pollutants

Food Sources of PCB Chemical Pollutants
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The top three sources of industrial toxins in the diet are fish oil, fish, and eggs.

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What about all the other industrial pollutants, like PCBs?

In perhaps the largest study to date, more than 12,000 food and feed samples tested across 18 countries. In the 11,000 food samples tested, the highest mean contamination level was observed in fish and eggs: “fish and fish-derived products followed by eggs, milk and their products, and [then] meat and meat products from [land-based] animals. The lowest contamination was observed in foods of plant origin.”

That is reason enough, right there, to transition towards a plant-based diet. Here’s the data. Fish oil, just off the charts: 117 micrograms per kg. Fish meat 35; eggs, with quantifiable levels found in 94% of eggs tested, dairy; beef/pork/chicken; and then, plant foods: 0.08.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to cornishman via iStock

What about all the other industrial pollutants, like PCBs?

In perhaps the largest study to date, more than 12,000 food and feed samples tested across 18 countries. In the 11,000 food samples tested, the highest mean contamination level was observed in fish and eggs: “fish and fish-derived products followed by eggs, milk and their products, and [then] meat and meat products from [land-based] animals. The lowest contamination was observed in foods of plant origin.”

That is reason enough, right there, to transition towards a plant-based diet. Here’s the data. Fish oil, just off the charts: 117 micrograms per kg. Fish meat 35; eggs, with quantifiable levels found in 94% of eggs tested, dairy; beef/pork/chicken; and then, plant foods: 0.08.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to cornishman via iStock

22 responses to “Food Sources of PCB Chemical Pollutants

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  1. Thanks for developing this excellent website and I really appreciate that you make the articles available to everyone.

    I am, however,finding a discrepancy between the numbers presented in this video and those of Table 10 of your cited source.

    Specifically, if I read the numbers off the table in the same order you presented them, I get the following values in picograms / gram (for dioxin like PCBs):

    fish oil = 7.14;
    fish meat = 2.08;
    eggs = 1.09;
    dairy = 1.0;
    meat (sum of beaf,pork,dairy) = 2.02;
    plant = 0.09.

    The ratios I am reading seem considerably different from presented in the video and to convert from picograms / gram to your units of micrograms/kg I believe we would have to divide all of these numbers by 1000. Thus, the difference may be very large, as you state 117 micrograms/gram for fish oil when I wonder if it may in fact be 0.00714 micrograms / gram.

    1. BPC–It is such a breath of fresh air to see folks actually reading the primary sources! If there is anything NutritionFacts.org stands for it’s critical thinking. There is so much junk science purveyed by junk food industry interests out there. Don’t believe a word they say; but don’t believe a word I say either–believe the science! Don’t trust any nutrition source that doesn’t cite from the peer-reviewed scientific literature (which aint perfect, but it’s the best we have). And just citation isn’t enough, you actually have to READ the sources to make sure they are accurately representing the science and not just throwing citations around.

      I was totally puzzled by your comment until I realized you were looking at the wrong paper! You were looking at an older report (I think the link was wrong) that was measuring picograms of WHO toxic equivalents per gram (see the table you refer to says “pgTEQWHO98/g”?). The paper cited in “Sources” listed above under the video (EFSA 8(10):1701) and which I show in the video measures PCBs in μg/kg, as I say in the video. If you turn to page 25 you’ll see the data I showed in the video: 117 for fish oil (remember we’re talking about food for humans, not feed for animals) all the way down to 0.08 for plant foods (fruits, vegetables and grains), a three orders-of-magnitude difference! Definitely a powerful argument for trying to eat low on the food chain.

      1. Ever since i stumbled upon this website I ONLY trust what the science says through peer reviewed journals and discount the “opinions” of others. Its an important lesson for everyone to look at the science itself, Thanks for such a great collective resource!

        1. Dr. Greger, perhaps I’m not understanding this correctly, but according to page 25 of the report, doesn’t eel have the most PCBs, with 223 μg/kg, and fish liver have the second most, with 163 μg/kg, then fish oil with the third most, at 117 μg/kg?

  2. Thank you Dr. Greger for your detailed response that fully answers my question. Your video does indeed present a very powerful argument and one that I feel is not discussed widely enough.

    I feel that the way you inspire people to delve into primary sources of science is wonderful. I hope that you keep up the great work!

  3. I tried to find information about Alaskan Wild caught salmon specifically to see what the PCB levels are like and I found this article:
    http://www.ewg.org/reports/farmedpcbs
    The Monterey Institute rates Alaskan salmon as being one of the most sustainable that we have available but they still suggest limiting consumption to children under 6 because of contamination issues. (This is even in what we consider the “pristine” waters of Alaska!)
    Are the PCB’s with fish our only concern? If I ate an entirely plant based diet except for 2 meals per month with Alaskan salmon, would those two meals completely diminish what I accomplished by eating vegan the rest of the time? Is the fat in fish just as much of a concern for someone who has eaten meat for 50 years and is now just converting to a plant based diet?

    1. In the article you sent, the EWG first blasts poisonous levels of PCBs in salmon and conclude:

      “… EPA advice would restrict [farmed salmon] consumption to no more than one meal a month.”

      After reporting hideous levels of PCBs in salmon, they provide the following frightening summary:

      “If raised correctly, [farmed salmon] can help meet global demand for high-quality protein and take some of the pressure off of highly depleted populations of wild fish. But major reforms to the industry are needed.”

      What will it take for them to recommend that people just abstain altogether from eating salmon?

  4. To get in EPA/DHA, the best source is from algae – which is the original source of the EPA/DHA in the fish! There are several companies now that produce EPA/DHA from algae grown in tanks on land. This option lets me optimize my health, avoid PCBs, AND avoid contributing to the decimation of our ocean ecosystems.

  5. I am in agreement about farned salmon being loaded with PCB’s but I thought my question was about wild Alaskan salmon. The PCB’s are way below the farmed and it is considered sustainable. I haven’t eaten farmed salmon for years but I have been eating wild from Alaska. When I looked at Dr. Greger’s video on this page, it’s a European study and it doesn’t specifically look at individual foods. It lumps everything together into categories. There could be foods that were part of those samples that are safe but they are skewed by those that aren’t in the same category. Since I have been eating wild salmon, I was trying to do more research on it specifically. My thought is that it looks like it is not the demon that farm raised salmon is, so I’m not getting exposed to that level of PCB’s. On the other hand salmon does contain fat. Since I’m over 50 and have previously eaten meat most of my life I presume my arteries are somewhat clogged. If I eat wild caught Alaskan salmon two times per month am I denigrating all the other positives I’m accomplishing by eating plant based? I am not worried about EPA/DHA; I am considering the pleasure of eating something that I enjoy. If I found that it was a detriment to my health, I don’t think I would enjoy eating it just like meat and poultry are no longer enjoyable.

  6. Hi Lisa,

    I found an article that addresses your specific question on the PCB levels in wild Alaskan salmon as compared with farmed. The citation is:

    “PCBs, PCDD/Fs, and organochlorine pesticides in farmed Atlantic salmon from Maine, eastern Canada, and Norway, and wild salmon from Alaska. by Shaw SD, Brenner D, Berger ML, Carpenter DO, Hong CS, Kannan K. ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY vol.40 pgs.5347-5354, 2006”

    Please note that they state: “Total PCB concentrations (7.2−29.5 ng/g, wet weight, ww) in the farmed salmon were significantly higher than those in the wild Alaskan Chinook samples (3.9−8.1 ng/g, ww).”

    Since their scale of ng/g is equivalent to micrograms/kg, you, thus, have your answer of 3.9-8.1 micrograms/kg of total PCBs present in wild Alaskan salmon. This can be directly compared with the other items on Dr. Greger’s video.

    Given the horrible health consequences of PCBs (see for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polychlorinated_biphenyl#Health_effects),

    you may be best advised to limit consumption as much as possible if you are unable to eliminate it from your diet altogether.

    I hope that this information is useful to you.

  7. Isn’t it true that PCBs also tend to be stored in fatty tissues more readily (breastmilk, for example)? Hence, eating low-fat/non-fat choices are better for those who do consume animal-based products.

  8. Would the same statistics follow for organic meats? I need a high protein diet and it appears that we all differ on whether we can do well veggie diets. But buying organic chicken in a plastic wrap may be an oxymoron.

  9. Thank you, BPCveg, for the data on salmon.

    Patricia, we have an organic market that has meat in cases. You can bring your own glass storage containers to put the products that you buy in so you don’t have to wrap them in plastic.

    I think the cost ends up being prohibitive for many people to go completely organic. My understanding is that organic meats would lower your exposure to many toxins but for a healthy cardiovascular system you are still consuming fats so they are still not optimal.

    I think dietary changes are often baby steps though. There are a few things that I just haven’t managed to take out of my diet. Maybe after more education and additional time to adapt to where I am now, I’ll be completely vegan in not too long.

    It makes it more difficult when you have to convince an entire family to change their habits – best of luck to you!

  10. What about Lovaza as a source of fish oil? I have very high cholesterol and multiple myeloma and have been taking it for a few months. My triglycerides have come down significantly and my cholesterol as come down somewhat.

  11. Are ALL fish oil capsules contaminated? Also, do you think the almond, coconut and other dairy alternatives are safe? Thanks for your response and all you do to keep us safe.

  12. I am on a vegan diet but curious, what are the health concerns associated with egg whites from antibiotic & hormone free, Free Range Chickens?

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