Girls meat milk dioxin warning
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POSTED AT 12:23 AM EDT Thursday, Jul. 3, 2003
Girls warned to cut back on meat, whole milk
By ANDRÉ PICARD
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Girls should markedly cut back their consumption of red meat, poultry and whole milk to reduce their exposure to dioxin, a chemical that can build up in the body and, in their childbearing years, harm their babies, a U.S. scientific panel says.
The Institute of Medicine, in a report released yesterday, said that teaching girls to cut their fat intake is the most efficient way to reduce the risk to the next generation.
Dioxins are believed to cause developmental problems and increase susceptibility to cancer, but the levels at which they become dangerous are unclear.
"Because the risks posed by the amount of dioxins found in foods have yet to be determined, we are recommending simple, prudent steps to reduce dioxin exposure while data are gathered that will clarify the risks," said Robert Lawrence, the associate dean at the school of public health of Johns Hopkins University and chairman of the IOM committee that prepared the report.
Dioxins are chemical compounds produced when material is burned. They are ubiquitous in the environment, but accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals. People are exposed principally by eating animal fats, including beef, chicken, fatty fish, whole milk and eggs. The IOM committee said aboriginal people — including those in Canada's North — who eat a diet rich in wild game and fish are at particular risk, and should heed the counsel for girls to cut back on their fat intake.
The levels of dioxins in the breast milk of women in Canada's Far North is five-times higher than among women in the south.
Last year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested food sold in Canadian supermarkets such as beef, pork and eggs and found dioxins and other carcinogenic chemicals in about 80 per cent of samples.
Dr. Lawrence said the committee cannot set acceptable levels of dioxin consumption for two reasons: The scientific evidence is lacking, and the tests to determine dioxin levels are extremely expensive. It can cost up to $1,000 to check a single piece of meat.
"We refrained from setting any risk-tolerance limits or mandatory cutoff points because it would have been cost prohibitive," he said.
In addition to having girls change their dietary habits, the committee also recommended that food companies and farmers increase their efforts to curb dioxin levels in food, notably by reducing the prevalence of dioxins in animal feed. The panel said additional research is needed to track the effects of dioxins on children.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that 150 kilograms of dioxins were released into the atmosphere in the United States in 2001, up from 100 a year earlier.
But, since the 1970s, dioxin levels have decreased sharply — by about 76 per cent according to the EPA.
Dioxin levels are also believed to have fallen in food, but breastfeeding rates have soared — dioxins accumulate in breast milk because it is fatty — meaning the risk to babies is actually greater.