Waiter, there’s a phthalate in my soup!

Posted on September, 21 2006

According to a new WWF report, industrial chemicals such phthalates, pesticides, PCBs and other toxics have been found in food products consumed throughout Europe.
Gland, Switzerland/Brussels, Belgium – Industrial chemicals such as pesticides, PCBs and flame retardants have been found in food consumed throughout Europe — from dairy products to meat and fish — according to a WWF report released today.

The new report, Chain of Contamination: the food link, shows that food is a crucial link in a global chain of contamination that begins with the manufacture of chemicals and ends with their unwelcome appearance in our blood, with a potential risk of developing harmful diseases. According to the report, the same cocktail of hazardous chemicals has been detected in wildlife and the environment.

“Being at the top of the food chain, humans are particularly exposed to chemicals in food,” said Professor Jan-Åke Gustafsson, coordinator of CASCADE, a European network focusing on endocrine disrupting chemicals in food, and who is supporting the WWF report.

“As some of these chemicals are similar to hormones, they interfere with our endocrine system and may be a risk factor for diseases like obesity, different forms of cancer and diabetes as well as reduced fertility.”

The WWF report reveals the results of analysis carried out on 27 samples of different food items purchased in supermarkets in seven EU countries — the UK, Italy, Spain, Greece, Sweden, Finland and Poland. Food items tested include dairy products (milk, butter and cheese), meat (sausages, bacon, chicken breasts, ham and salami), fish (salmon and tuna), bread, honey and olive oil. The samples were analyzed for eight different groups of man-made chemicals — organochlorine pesticides, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals, phthalates, organotins, alkylphenols and artificial musks.

The tests found potentially harmful synthetic chemicals in all of the analyzed samples, ranging from phthalates in olive oil, cheeses and meats, banned organochlorine pesticides in fish and reindeer meat, artificial musks and organotins in fish, and flame retardants in meats and cheeses.

While WWF stresses that people will not necessarily become ill by eating these food items, the global organization is seriously concerned over the potential effects of long-term, low levels exposure to chemicals in the diet, especially on the developing foetus, infants and young children.

“It is shocking to see that even a healthy diet leads to the daily uptake of so many contaminants,” said Sandra Jen, Director of WWF’s DetoX Campaign. “Breaking this global chain of contamination will require a strong commitment from EU politicians to human health and the environment.”

Food is one of the most important routes for human exposure to pollutants, notably the ones that persist and accumulate in the environment, such as DDT, PCBs and brominated flame retardants. But chemicals also enter the environment in many other ways: as a result of leakages during manufacture; transport or storage; direct applications; and a wide variety of uses in products such as computers, TVs and toiletries.

This autumn, the European Parliament will vote on the new EU chemicals legislation (REACH) which was designed to protect people and wildlife from harmful man-made chemicals. However, over the period of its development, industry lobbying has resulted in a much weakened proposal, which could be as ineffective as the current legislation, according to WWF.

The global conservation organization is urging the EU to adopt a much stronger version of REACH. European legislators must ensure that REACH delivers sufficient safety data on chemicals in order to identify the most hazardous ones. And chemicals of very high concern, including hormone disrupting chemicals, should be replaced with safer alternatives whenever available.


• Organochlorine pesticides are used in agriculture; PCBs in electrical equipment; brominated flame retardants in plastics, textiles and electronic appliances; perfluorinated chemicals in the manufacture of non-stick coatings and fast food packaging; phthalates to soften plastic; organotins in marine antifoulants; alkylphenols in detergents; and artificial musks as fragrance chemicals in cleaning products and cosmetics.

• Many of the compounds are found in a concentration range of 0.1 to 10 ng/g, with the exception of phthalates for which typical concentrations are two orders of magnitude higher. Contamination with organochlorines is low but frequent. PCBs have been found in all samples analysed, and ppDDE -a metabolite of DDT- in 16 out of 27 samples, with the highest concentrations in fish. Brominated flame retardants have been found in 19 of 26 samples, with the highest concentrations in meat. Phthalates were found in 16 of 21 samples. In few samples nonylphenols, artificial musks and perfluorchemicals (PFOS) were found in addition.

For more information:
Noemi Cano, WWF DetoX Communications Manager
Tel: +32 2 743 88 06
Email: ncano@wwfepo.org

Olivier van Bogaert, Senior Press Officer
WWF International
Tel: +41 22 364 9554
Email: ovanbogaert@wwfint.org
Industrial chemicals such as pesticides, PCBs and flame retardants have been found in many food dishes in Europe, including fish.