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July 1, 2003

Reducing Dietary Dioxin Exposure

On July 1, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies issued a report urging the federal agencies responsible for food safety to develop and implement a dioxin risk-management strategy in an effort to reduce human exposure to dioxins through foods. The report does not recommend any regulatory limits on dioxins or dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) in food or feed, because the health risks posed by the levels of dioxins in foods are not fully known.

"Because the risks posed by the amount of dioxins present in foods have yet to be determined, we offer recommendations for simple, prudent steps to further reduce dioxin exposure while the data that will clarify the risks are gathered," said Robert Lawrence, MD, associate dean for professional practice and programs at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and chair of the committee that wrote the report. Dr. Lawrence is also director of the School's Center for A Livable Future.

Dioxins and DLCs are compounds found in the environment that accumulate in the body fat of animals and people. Most people are exposed to dioxins through consumption of the fats in meat, poultry, fatty fish, whole milk, and full-fat dairy. High levels of dioxins have been linked to endocrine-related conditions, developmental problems, and susceptibility to cancer. More research is needed to determine if small amounts of dioxins are toxic and at what levels they begin to pose risks.

The report suggested reducing the exposure of girls and women to dioxins in foods during the years well before childbearing to lessen the accumulation of the compounds in their bodies, which could later be passed on to their children through the placenta and breast milk. The report also recommended that government-sponsored food programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, should increase the availability of foods low in animal fat in their meals. The committee added that federal agencies should work with food producers to develop voluntary guidelines for animal feeding and food-production practices that would minimize animals' exposure to dioxins.

Institute of Medicine Press Release

Dioxins and Dioxin-like Compounds in the Food Supply: Strategies to Decrease Exposure

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu. Photographs of Robert Lawrence are available upon request.
Media contacts for the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies: Christine Stencel or Andrea Durham at 202-334-2138 or news@nas.edu.