EU tightens limits on cancer-causing cadmium, lead levels in food

Vulnerable groups to cadmium exposure include children, vegetarians, smokers and people living in highly contaminated areas. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The European Commission has set new maximum levels for two cancer-causing food contaminants, cadmium and lead, in a range of food products, due to enter into force at the end of the month.

The measures, announced by the EU executive on 11 August, are intended to further reduce the presence of carcinogenic contaminants in food and to make healthy food more accessible, a key aim of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, the Commission said in a statement.

The new limits for lead and cadmium will apply from 30 August and 31 August respectively.

While some foodstuffs will be required to meet this requirement from the date of entry into force of the new regulation, others will be permitted a short transition period.

In addition, the maximum levels of lead in many food products, including foods for infants and young children, will be reduced. New maximum lead levels will also be set for several foodstuffs such as wild mushrooms, spices and salt.

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Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal linked with a range of cancers, including in the lung, endometrium, bladder, and breast.

The main source of cadmium exposure for non-smokers is food, in products such as cereals and cereal products, vegetables, nuts and pulses, starchy roots or potatoes, and meat and meat products.

Due to their high consumption of these foodstuffs, vegetarians have a higher dietary exposure. Other vulnerable groups include children, smokers and people living in highly contaminated areas.

Likewise, lead can be found in a range of foodstuffs, including spices, salt and in foods for infants, but has been shown to cause developmental neurotoxicity in young children and cardiovascular issues and nephrotoxicity in adults.

The decision follows on from two European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinions on cadmium and lead in food in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Both EFSA opinions warned about the current levels of dietary exposure, highlighting that exposure to cadmium in the EU often exceeded recommended limits and that current levels of dietary exposure to lead might affect neurodevelopment in foetuses, infants and children.

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said that the decision was about “putting consumers first by making our food safer and healthier, as we have committed to do in the EU Cancer Plan”.

“It is also a further step in strengthening the European Union’s already high and world-class standards in the EU food chain and providing safer, healthier and more sustainable food to our citizens,” she added.

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[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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