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Recipe for Disaster - A review of persistent organic pollutants in food

Publication - 1 March, 2000

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Executive summary: Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are a group of chemicals which are very resistant tonatural breakdown processes and are therefore extremely stable and long-lived. POPs are not only persistent in the environment but many are also highly toxic and build up(bioaccumulate) in the tissues of animals and humans. Most do not occur in nature but aresynthetic chemicals released as a result of anthropogenic activities. Vast amounts of POPshave been released into the environment and due to long-distance transport on air currents,POPs have become widespread pollutants and now represent a global contamination problem. Certain POPs have been responsible for some catastrophic effects in wildlife,ranging from interference with sexual characteristics to dramatic population losses. POPsare suspected of causing a broad range of adverse health impacts in humans and there is evidence that current levels of POPs in women in the general population of some countries is sufficient to cause subtle undesirable effects in their babies due to transfer of these contaminants across the placenta and via breast milk.There are numerous POPs which pollute the environment. Some of those which have given rise for particular concern are persistent organochlorines. A meeting of the UNEP’s governing Council in 1995 identified a list of 12 POPs as substances of clear concern inaccordance with the precautionary principle. These chemicals are all organochlorines. They include dioxins and furans (PCDD/Fs), which are produced as unwanted by-products of several industrial processes including incineration and PCBs and HCB, which have several uses and are also formed as unwanted by-products. DDT, chlordane, heptachlor, aldrin,dieldrin, endrin, toxaphene and mirex, which are pesticides complete the list.The major route of exposure to POPs in humans is through consumption of food. Most ofthe 12 POPs listed by UNEP are widespread pollutants and are found in foodstuffs from allover the world. Since POPs are soluble in fats (lipophilic) the highest levels are usuallyfound in fatty foods such as meat, fish and dairy products, but POPs can also be found in vegetables, fruit and cereals. In addition to the general contamination of foods by POPs, there have also been accidents in which foodstuffs have become highly contaminated.Greenpeace has issued this report to highlight the contamination of the human food chain by POPs. The report sources material from the published scientific literature. It identifies many instances where regulatory limits for foods are exceeded throughout the world anddiscusses accidents and industrial activities that have led to high level food contamination.

Num. pages: 86

ISBN: 90-73361-63-X