The European Commission has set new maximum levels for lead and cadmium in a range of food products to protect public health.

Measures will apply beginning Aug. 30 for limits of lead and a day later for cadmium. They cover fruits, vegetables, meat and supplements.

The aim is to further reduce the presence of the heavy metal contaminants in food, said the Commission.

Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said the decision puts consumers first by making food safer and healthier.

“It is also another step forward in reinforcing EU food safety standards and delivering safer, healthier and more sustainable food for citizens,” she said.

Cadmium limits
Food groups that contribute most of the dietary cadmium exposure are cereals and cereal products, vegetables, nuts and pulses, starchy roots or potatoes, and meat and meat products.

In January 2009, a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion on cadmium in food concluded it is primarily toxic to the kidneys and may cause renal failure. The agency set a tolerable weekly intake for cadmium of 2.5 μg per kilogram of body weight.

It also concluded that groups such as vegetarians, children, smokers and people living in highly contaminated areas may exceed the weekly intake by about two-fold.

New maximum levels for baby foods as well as chocolate and cocoa products were then established by the EU. The action on chocolate and cocoa led to concerns being raised at World Trade Organization meetings by countries including Peru.

The updated EU rules cover products such as beetroots, garlic, berries, nuts, fish and salt. For a full list of products and maximum levels click here.

Lead action
In March 2010, an EFSA opinion on lead in food identified it can cause developmental neurotoxicity in young children and cardiovascular issues in adults. The authority expressed a concern that the levels of dietary exposure to lead might affect neurodevelopment in fetuses, infants and children.

Findings were supported by a report from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants in the same year. The Codex Alimentarius Commission then lowered the maximum level for lead in several products.

Cereal products and grains, vegetables such as potatoes and leafy vegetables and tap water are the most important contributors to lead dietary exposure in Europe.

Revised EU laws target offal, certain foods for infants and young children, salt and wild fungi. To help fight fraud, such as the addition of lead chromate to turmeric, maximum levels for spices were also established.

Foodstuffs placed on the market that exceeded the limits before the new rules were adopted may continue to be sold until Feb. 28, 2022.

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