In a report released by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an expert panel on contaminants assessing current levels of exposure to lead through food and other sources could not set a firm level above which lead in food could trigger health problems.
Lead is an environmental contaminant which occurs naturally and through human activities such as mining, smelting, and battery manufacturing. Human exposure to lead can occur through food, air, water, soil, and dust, according to the EFSA.
“There is considerable evidence demonstrating that the developing brain is more vulnerable to the neurotoxicity of lead than the mature brain,” EFSA’s scientific opinion said, referring to lead in food.
“In children, an elevated blood lead level is inversely associated with a reduced intelligence quotient (IQ) score and reduced cognitive functions up to at least seven years of age”
Based on a review of the available data, EFSA’s panel considered the existing Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI) was no longer appropriate.
According to the EFSA, a new level could not be established because there was no clear threshold below which the panel was confident that adverse effects would not occur.
“This firm level is not possible to set at the moment … It is based on very conservative calculations,” an EFSA spokesman told Reuters.
Since the 1970s Europe has considerably reduced human exposure to lead by cutting the levels of lead in gas, paint, food cans, and pipes. There are still concerns, however, with the possibility of lead entering the food chain, EFSA said.
EFSA’s panel considered cereals, vegetables, and tap water to contribute most to exposure to lead for most Europeans.
Non-dietary exposure to lead was considered to be of minor importance to adults; however house dust and soil can be important sources of exposure for children, EFSA said.
The Commission together with experts from the member states “will re-examine the current maximum levels, taking into account EFSA’s opinion and more recent data,” Frederic Vincent, spokesman for EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli, said.
Vincent added concrete proposals are unlikely before the end of 2010.