Dioxin Contamination of Feed/Food Chain

Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), dibenzofurans (PCDFs) and biphenyls (PCBs), are Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) with similar physical properties that persist in the environment, bioaccumulating within the food chain through their low biodegradability and high lipophilicity. Following animal exposure, these compounds accumulate in muscle, liver and lipid tissues, and can transfer into milk and eggs. Several contamination events involving these compounds in animal feed and food derived from exposed farm animals has both heightened awareness of the adverse health effects of POPs and highlighted the economic impact of such incidents on the agri-food sector.


It is widely accepted that animal feed and feed additives, as evidenced by several incidents, have been the most frequent entry point of these toxic substances into the food chain. In 1999, animal feed contaminated with dioxins caused a major crisis affecting Belgium and other EU countries, whilst more recently dioxin-contaminated animal feed led to a massive and highly damaging recall of tainted food products in Ireland. The prevention of future incidents can only be effectively achieved by systematic monitoring for the presence of these chemicals within the environment, animal feed, farm animals and food products of animal origin. Particular focus will be required on co-products or by-products from the food chain that are normally used for animal feed purposes e.g. fats, oil, minerals, fishmeal, etc.

The main objective of ASSET research activity in this area is to develop proteomic/metabolomic screening tools which can identify dioxin exposure at levels that often go undetected as they do not produce overt clinical effects in animals. This capability to preempt dioxin contamination of the food chain through early detection will have specific impact on a range of individuals including those involved in food production, those agencies charged with monitoring for such contaminants in food and to diagnostic analytical companies. The reduced cost of the developed procedures will enable food producers to test greater quantities of their food material and ensure that tainted material is removed from the food chain at source thereby avoiding the detrimental effects – both economic and health-based - associated with such contamination incidents.

Complex interactions of co-contaminating agents during dioxin contamination events: