To offer the Chilean meat industry useful and up-to-date information about reports on dioxins (environmental pollutants considered to be dangerous chemicals) following European parameters, which are the strictest worldwide, ChileCarne hosted a webinar on September 9th with Dr. Esteban Abad, Head of the Dioxin Lab at the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Studies (IDAEA) and member of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) based in Barcelona, Spain. The meeting was called: “Updating and interpreting dioxin reports via high resolution (HRGC-HRMS).”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxins are persistent environmental pollutants (POPs) found throughout the world in the environment and they accumulate in the food chain. Dioxins are of concern because of their highly toxic potential. Experiments have shown they affect a number of organs and systems. Once dioxins enter the body, they last a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. The higher an animal is in the food chain, the higher the concentration of dioxins.

Thus, Dr. Abad began his talk by saying: “Dioxins are relevant pollutants in Europe and worldwide that started being measured 20 years ago. WHO has declared that exposure to these substances can cause cancer and other diseases.” He also made a clear distinction between dioxins and PCBs: “Dioxins have appeared in the environment; people haven’t caused them. PCBs are different because they are a technical accumulation that has been manufactured, used, and synthesized for a long time.”

The topics addressed by the international expert during the virtual meeting included: interpreting confirmatory reports according to European regulations, interpreting the implications of each group or congener when results are above limit values, and examples of research to identify the probable cause of pollution. And lastly, an update on dioxins in Europe.

Dr. Abad highlighted that there have been negative experiences in various parts of the world: “We’ve had evidence of these pollutants reaching the highest level of the toxicity chain; in many cases these pollutants came from animal-based foods, both terrestrial and aquatic, and in many cases, episodes have originated from inputs such as feedstuffs.”

 The Belgian poultry crisis and progress made in the last 20 years

According to the expert, the so-called “Belgian poultry crisis” that began in 1999 revealed the need to thoroughly monitor these pollutants as they had the ability to accelerate the food supply chain. There were similar experiences around Europe, even in Chile years ago. 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. “The European Union (EU) regulatory framework is based on three main pillars to act against these pollutants and address well-documented sources like the ones we mentioned before. Limit values were set for emissions from these sources, and also for some foods destined 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.”

In 2000, a survey on the level of pollutants in the diet provided baseline values. In 2001, the first limit values were set, the expert explained. In 2015, the standard was reviewed and certain foods were analyzed again according to the official EU control.

An important idea shared by Dr. Abad is that there are two types of regulations regarding food products and animal feed run parallel to each other but do not intersect. He also mentioned that labs must validate their analytical methodologies and demonstrate their performance to detect the maximum content range. Dr. Abad also explained that reports must include recovery percentages. “Dioxins are measured against certain standards and when they surpass these margins, it has to be documented.” And he stressed: “Of course uncertainty must be taken into consideration in this scenario as an absolute value cannot be provided. There is always a small variation.” Dr. Abad highlighted that the European regulatory framework should serve as a mirror for other countries such as Chile because, although Chilean surveillance programs are adequate, “we must continuously move forward, but also avoid relaxation in any matrix. Nothing must escape our control,” he concluded.