1 July 2003, Rome
convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and
the World Health Organization (WHO) today announced agreement on
recommendations regarding safe intake levels for a variety of
different chemicals occurring in food, including cadmium and
methylmercury, the most toxic form of mercury.
Forty-eight scientists from 17 countries participated
in the 61st meeting of the Joint Expert Committee for Food
Additives and Contaminants (JECFA) from 10-19 June at FAO's
Rome headquarters. Established by FAO and WHO in 1956, JECFA
meets regularly to provide safety and risk assessment advice to
countries and to the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Codex
recommends international standards for food safety and quality,
as well as codes of practice and guidelines.
In the light of new data, the experts re-evaluated
previous JECFA risk assessments for cadmium and methylmercury,
which are largely unavoidable food contaminants. In the case of
cadmium, the Committee concluded that the new data did not
provide a sufficient basis for changing the currently
recommended Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI) of
cadmium of 7 micrograms per kilogram of body weight (µg/kg).
While stressing that kidney disease is a serious health concern
associated with excessive cadmium intake, the advisory body
concluded that consumption at or below the currently established
PTWI would not increase the risk of kidney problems.
On methylmercury the Committee received and reviewed
additional information that had been requested previously. Based
on this, the experts revised the PTWI for methylmercury,
recommending that it be reduced to 1.6 µg per kg body weight per
week in order to sufficiently protect the developing foetus. The
foetus is exposed to methylmercury through contaminated food
eaten by the pregnant mother. This new recommendation changes
the prior recommendation for a dietary limit of 3.3 µg per kg
body weight per week.
The Committee noted
that some fish species (e.g. swordfish and sharks) are the most
significant source of methylmercury in food. The experts
stressed that when providing advice to consumers and setting
limits for methylmercury concentrations, public health
authorities should keep in mind that fish play a key role in
meeting nutritional needs in many countries.
A summary of the expert report is available
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