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Reduce dioxin in our food!

Reduce dioxin in our food!

Priority has to be given in the Ministry for the Environment's Action Plan on dioxin to reducing sources of dioxin that contaminate our food, according to Safe Food Campaign Co-convenor, Alison White.

The deadline for submissions on the MFE action plan for reducing discharges of dioxin to air closed on Thursday 31 January 2002. The plan aims to reduce dioxin discharges entering the air and thereby reducing people's exposure to the potent toxin dioxin.

"New Zealand babies, in their first month of life, are estimated to receive over 100 times the WHO level of dioxin and no safe level has been found for this family of long-lasting, bio-accumulative chemical compounds. Apart from cancer, other effects documented in thousands of studies include damage to the immune, hormonal and reproductive systems. Dioxin and other hormonal disruptors are now believed to affect children's ability to learn, to socially integrate, to fend off disease, and to reproduce," commented Ms White.

In New Zealand, though current daily intake levels of dioxins are estimated to be below many other countries and have decreased over time, there is an uncomfortably small margin of safety as far as the general health of the population is concerned. Apart from the foetus in the womb and babies, there are other groups, amounting to perhaps half the population, who will be exceeding the WHO level and who may be experiencing adverse effects on their health because of the build up of toxins in their bodies.

Even though a survey of retail foods in New Zealand found very low levels of dioxin compared to other countries, there is no room for complacency. The validity of the survey itself can be questioned because it relied on an analysis of a mere 23 samples of food for the whole country! One sample of butter was analysed for example, made from a composite of 15 samples, and one sample of bread from a composite of 30 samples. Only one composite sample was analysed for most of the 19 food groups. An effect of combining such a large number of samples into one could be to reduce levels of a contaminant to below the level of detection. Clearly, greater priority was given to economising, as it is tremendously expensive to analyse for dioxin, than to give more validity by increasing the number of samples analysed .

The dioxin plan acknowledges that "over 90% of the dioxin entering the body of the typical New Zealander is thought to have come from eating animal foods." Yet no restrictions are mentioned in the plan of a dioxin-contaminated pesticide which is permitted to be aerially distributed (24D), nor of a number of dioxin-contaminated pesticides that are used directly on food.

"It is crucial for pregnant and breastfeeding women to take steps to reduce dioxin in their diets. They can do this by reducing or eliminating fish (especially those at the top of the foodchain like shark) and meat, and increasing their consumption of fruit and vegetables as this helps protect against toxins. It is important, however, to make these organic," added Ms White, "as you don't want more toxins in your body than you need to have."

Enquiries: Alison White ph (04) 476-8607, (021) 1699-120

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