E.U. Commissioner's statement on Science study

No new food safety issues in study
E.U. Commissioner's statement on Science study
February 11, 2004

David Byrne, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection
Declaration on Salmon - Reaction on study in "Science"
European Parliament Plenary Session
Strasbourg, 10 February 2004

The study "Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon", published on 9 January 2004 in Science, compared the levels of 14 organochlorine contaminants in samples of farmed and wild salmon.

Besides dioxins and PCBs, the study reports on the presence of residues of organochlorine pesticides the use of which has been long been prohibited in the EU.

This study does not raise new food safety issues as the levels found are consistent with the results from other surveys and from official controls. This does not, however, mean that the presence of these contaminants is not a cause for concern.

As regards dioxins, strict EU maximum levels were adopted in 2001 for dioxins in feed and food, including fish. However, in setting these levels, the Commission had to take into account the reality of the current background contamination of the environment in order not to endanger the food supply.

I would remind you that worldwide, only the European Union and Korea have adopted maximum levels for dioxins in feed and food.

These maximum levels are part of a comprehensive strategy adopted by the European Commission in 2001 to reduce the presence of dioxins and PCBs in the environment, in feed and in food.

The implementation of this strategy will give new impetus to the reduction of the background contamination. As a result, it will be possible to lower progressively the maximum levels to follow this downward trend.

The legislation foresees that, as early as this year, the maximum levels have to be revised to integrate some PCBs with toxicological effects similar to dioxins.

Furthermore it is foreseen that by the end of 2006 the maximum levels will be revised, aiming for a significant reduction.

For the other PCBs, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently undertaking a risk assessment. The result of this risk assessment is expected to become available by the end of 2004. The Commission will thereafter consider the setting of maximum levels also for these PCBs in feed and food.

The organochlorine pesticides detected in the study published in Science have, since long ago, been banned in the European Union.

However their continued presence in fish is due to the fact that they are very persistent compounds which can still be found in the environment.

The European Union has established maximum levels for these pesticides in animal feed including fish feed. On the basis of updated risk assessments undertaken by the Authority, the Commission will consider whether a revision of the current levels is necessary for the protection of animal and human health.

The highest levels of two pesticides, toxaphene and dieldrin, found by the study in salmon feed do exceed the maximum levels fixed at EU level. We have accordingly drawn the attention of the Member States to these findings, and requested that they submit data from official controls and, if necessary, reinforce those controls.

Finally I would stress that the levels of dioxins reported in the study are all below the EU maximum levels. Fish, be it farmed or wild, has its place in a well balanced diet to ensure that consumers continue to benefit from its positive health effects.

Thank you.