In an interview with ChileCarne, Dr. Esteban Abad, Head of the Dioxin Lab at the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Studies (IDAEA), based in Barcelona, Spain, one of the foremost labs in Europe, and also international expert for the United Nations and Europe, talked about the main challenges faced by the Chilean white meat industry in dioxin control and surveillance programs. He also provided updated information about the analysis and interpretation of reports on these hazardous chemical pollutants following European requirements, which are the strictest worldwide. During the conversation, Abad said that he wanted to deliver two clear and straight messages: “number one: rest assured because the Chilean white meat industry is working hard to avoid problems; and number two: be aware of not letting the guard down. There needs to be a balance between the two.”
- Dioxins are significant pollutants worldwide, especially in Europe. What would you say are the main challenges for the Chilean livestock industry to produce food that complies with the regulations?
I believe that the Chilean industry in general follows high standards. Unfortunately, it started to do so after an unpleasant experience and the country had no choice but to adapt to the circumstances and implement strict surveillance plans for these pollutants in the food production chain, forcing itself into the highest level of surveillance. From that point of view, one of the things that should be required is that they do not let their guard down at any time. It is clear that relaxing strategies have always resulted in issues with dioxins, sooner rather than later. Since 1999, new studies are continuously conducted, new matrices and substances have arisen, and everything is under continuous review and discussion.
- Are those levels replicable in South American countries?
They are and should be for every country. In fact, I believe that the current European regulatory framework is a guiding light, a mirror, and there is no framework as demanding as the European, not even the American or Canadian. Of course, they are comparable in some respects because they mirror each other, but they are not better. Europe is one step ahead in this matter.
- In your opinion, where is Chile compared to other countries?
Chile his privileged thanks to its geographical position, and it is at a very high level within the Southern Cone.
- Based on your international experience, how do you view Chile and Chilecarne within the dioxin control framework specifically?
I have seen that they have an appropriate surveillance program. In general, you have to put a limit on meat production and what you monitor because if you surveil every animal, it won’t be sustainable. In any case, considering the limitations all programs have –because ultimately companies must produce– there is an ambitious project, very well organized and structured, the result of good and bad experiences.
- Have there been any changes compared to previous years? Is it getting better?
Yes, I think so. In addition, there has been a continuous interest in growing and getting better. There is no doubt about it, but problems can start where you least expect them. Nevertheless, in Chile’s case they won’t come from lack of attention.
- What can you tell us about innovations to keep dioxins under control?
There are two innovations. I already mentioned one that is very straightforward and unoriginal: to avoid relaxing standards at all costs. You cannot persevere or lose sight of any functions, of any matrix that corroborates an analysis. Another fundamental aspect for me are new processes and substances. They will come, and progress is needed, but if new products appear, they have to be incorporated to this chain of surveillance.
- During your presentation at Chilecarne’s webinar: “Updating and interpreting dioxin reports via high resolution (HRGC-HRMS)” you mentioned some serious contamination episodes that occurred in early 2000. What recommendations would you give to the Chilean white meat sector, thinking about feedstuffs, pork, and poultry exposures to stay within the regulatory framework?
When we talk about animal feed, we are talking about a product that is the sum of various ingredients in continuous evolution: new ones come along and others from different processes disappear. None of them can escape control, no matter how small their part is in the final product. That does not work, it is not a valid strategy; and that is what you need to consider.
- Thinking about the medium and long term, what do you think are the topics that will be important in the European regulatory framework?
Clearly, the incorporation of new substances is a strong trend. I believe that new families of substances that have already interested the scientific community will appear and at some point, will be transferred to the administrative community. Lawmakers will incorporate them into the regulatory framework and eventually will need to set some limits but, certainly there will be an increase in the families of substances that will need to be controlled.
It should be noted that prior to this interview, during his presentation in Chilecarne’s webinar, Dr. Abad talked about the current interpretation of dioxin reports, explaining that it has been progressing over the past 20 years after the so-called “Belgian poultry crisis”. A thorough monitoring of these pollutants began to be implemented throughout the world, particularly in Europe. In light of this situation, the Stockholm Convention on POPs was adopted, an agreement between over 150 countries to fight the harmful impacts of pollutants on the environment and human health. It was then that limit values were set for emissions from these sources when they were part of foods intended for animal consumption and for direct human consumption as well. Aside from setting practical limits, the efforts included the definition of procedures to conduct official controls. Dr. Abad explained that “the guidelines or analytical framework that labs needed to prepare reports according to the official dioxin and PCB guidelines had to be defined.”
He pointed out that currently there are two types of regulations: one for food products and one for animal feed. He also explained that labs must validate their analytical methodologies and demonstrate their efficacy.