EPA’s dioxin dilemma puts farmers, ranchers in a pickle

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Later this month the Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release new guidelines that would set limits on the safe exposure of U.S. consumers to dioxin. As with most proposals of this type, farmers, ranchers and the U.S. food industry are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard spot.

The mere mention of dioxin conjures up visions of cancer and birth defects. Dioxin became a household word nearly 30 years ago when Times Beach, MO, was evacuated and quarantined due to high levels of dioxin. Many illnesses, miscarriages and animal deaths were attributed to the toxin. At the time, dioxin was called “the most toxic chemical synthesized by man.”

Pretty scary stuff, and even scarier when you realize everyone eats a certain amount of dioxin every day. That’s because dioxins are found in meat and dairy products, and most other foods. Animals absorb dioxin, which occurs naturally in the environment and moves through the food chain via the food animals consume, especially forages. Consumed at high levels, dioxins are linked to various human ailments including reproductive problems and cancer.

The question scientists grapple with is determining how much dioxin is dangerous. Farmers and the U.S. food industry are concerned the EPA will establish a threshold for dioxin that is below the amount a typical American gets from food.

Last fall the EPA set a preliminary “safe” threshold level of 0.7 picograms of dioxin per kilogram of body weight per day. That means a person weighing 100 pounds should not consume more than 32 picograms of dioxin per day. A pictogram is one trillionth of a gram.

Food and ag groups are concerned because the “safe” number proposed by EPA is far more stringent than current international science-based standards. In a letter sent to the Obama Administration in early December, a coalition of ag and food groups said, “EPA is proposing to create a situation in which most U.S. agricultural products could arbitrarily be classified as unfit for consumption. The implications of this action are chilling.”

Steve Kopperud, coordinator for the Food Industry Dioxin Working Group, told Dairy Herd Management last week that when food groups analyzed EPA’s proposed safe number, “what we discovered was that the average consumer would exceed the reference dose.”

And that’s why this issue leaves the food industry in a pickle – oppose EPA’s guidelines and industry seems insensitive to the dangers of dioxin; accept the stringent “safe” number and virtually no food will be deemed safe.

The letter sent to the Obama Administration stated the EPA proposal “sets a dioxin exposure threshold lower than any government entity in the world, including the European Union.” In fact, Kopperud says the EPA standard would be three times more stringent than the European Union standard, and, the EU is “one of the most precautionary governments on the planet.”

The Food Industry Dioxin Working Group, which includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Feed Industry Association, American Frozen Food Institute, American Meat Institute, Corn Refiners Association, International Dairy Foods Association, National Chicken Council and the National Grain & Feed Association, remains concerned over EPA’s efforts to finalize a draft dioxin risk assessment.

“The action is taking place without any agency outreach to the food industry or other key stakeholders and who could suffer harm if the EPA proposal is implemented,” the group wrote to the Obama Administration. “Since the agency contends the primary route of human exposure to dioxin is through food, this could not only mislead and frighten consumers about the safety of their diets, but could have a significant negative economic impact on all U.S. food producers.”

When the news media gets a hold of this, Kopperud says, “you will have a whole lot of folks running in circles saying there’s nothing safe to eat.” Essentially, “it will scare the crap out of people.”

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Jennifer Greene    
New York  |  January, 05, 2012 at 07:01 AM

Nothing safe to eat? Looks pretty clear cut how to stay away from the stuff: http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/dioxins-in-the-food-supply/

Kyle Webb    
Homer, IL  |  January, 05, 2012 at 10:11 AM

It's quite simple according to the video. Just nearly stop eating fish, eggs and dairy and greatly restrict meat intake. What could be simpler. BTW: Jennifer Greene is the Public Health Program Manager at the Humane Society of the United States. Since this is a public interest NGO, there's no possibility of any agenda unlike those biased organizations that represent the food industry or famers. These aren't the droids you're looking for. Move along.

Craig A. Moore    
Billings, MT  |  January, 05, 2012 at 09:35 AM

What is happening here is not the issue of health, it is the end run of an agenda. Face it, without a cause, people are not going to stop eating meat. Where better for someone with a vegan agenda, ending the processing of animals for food, to go to work than the EPA? There they have a better chance of ending the practice of raising animals for food prduct by legislating it out of existance.

Ron Treatise    
Alabama  |  January, 05, 2012 at 10:12 AM

Craig wrote: “Without a cause?” How about the link between the consumption of animal protein and chronic disease? The side dishes of bacteria, viruses, prions, parasites, antibiotics, animal waste, growth hormones, antiparasitics, arsenic-based drugs, and slaughter waste? Environmental devastation? Inefficent use of grain, which leads to global hunger among humans? The disproportionate use of scarce resources, like water and land? Animal suffering? Zoonoses, some of which turn to pandemics from selective breeding, high stress, intensive confinement, and concentrated wastes on factory farms? Food poisoning, virtually all of which comes from life with anuses, not plants? Climate change from greenhouse gases emitted by farm animals and their waste? Regarding dioxins, the World Health Organization and the EPA have declared dioxins a known carcinogen, with up to 1 in 14 cancer deaths in the US attributable to it. Dioxins are also linked to birth defects, learning disabilities, developmental problems, and immune-system deterioration. Bioaccumulation in animal fat makes it a key factor in increased dioxin levels in humans. Imagine how you’re position would change if carrots were the leading source of dioxins in the diet. Would you stand for the rights of carrot farmers to continue to supply dioxin-loaded carrots to customers? The difference is that you have a vested interest in selling products from dead animals, not carrots.

Octavio Eutimio Apodaca Barrio    
Mexico  |  January, 05, 2012 at 09:43 AM

only one thing is true all will Die and is better with a full Belly, and meat is a life pleasure

Jessica Laurin    
Kansas  |  January, 05, 2012 at 10:06 AM

Does this mean that any food products imported into the US, either for animal or human consumption, will be tested and rejected if they do not meet the new requirements?

Ike Bartels    
Manhattan, KS  |  January, 05, 2012 at 10:54 AM

Octavio, Finally someone with some common sense. Some people act like they will live forever.....I, for one, do not! My goal is to enjoy every day like it's my last and if that includes eating meat, drinking alcohol and emjoying everything else that isn't good for me then so be it!!!

Ron Treatise    
Alabama  |  January, 05, 2012 at 11:30 AM

"What right is it for you to dictate what I can and cannot have(?)" Our government has that right when our personal freedoms infringe on those of others. When someone smokes, they share their smoke with others, they encourge kids to mimic their behavior, and they will live diseased, shorter, and lower quality lives with far greater medical costs (much of which is borne by the taxpayer and/or other patients). In addition, many are not truly aware of the costs of smoking, whether through ignorance, cognitive dissonance, or some other factor. And even if they are aware, the perceived risks may not be significant enough for them to break their addiction to the product, so they are not truly ‘free’ to quit smoking. There is a difference between maximizing and optimizing personal liberty. Imagine maximizing it, whereby the government steps aside and lets everyone use crack cocaine without repercussion. After all, why should it interfere with what we do to our bodies? A large percentage of the population would quickly become addicted, the economy would collapse, health care costs and crime would skyrocket, and drug sellers would become the richest and most powerful people in the country. Now, what about dioxins in food? The vast majority of people in this country have no idea that there is no safe level of dioxins, that dioxins are so deadly, that they bioaccumulate in fatty tissue and never biodegrade, and they have no idea that they consume them virtually every day. Dioxin consumption leads to diseased, shorter, and lower quality lives with far greater medical costs (much of which is borne by the taxpayer and/or other patients). To top it off, it comes from food that is the product of affluence – substitutes are readily avialable, and they have many side benefits like better health, cleaner air, water and land, more efficient production, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and so on.

Maryland  |  January, 05, 2012 at 12:32 PM

Breast-fed infants in particular receive a high dose of dioxin during their first months of life, when breast milk is their only, or primary, food source (LaKind 2007). Adverse impacts of dioxins on children’s health are of great concern, because developmental and/or early-life dioxin exposure has been linked to neurological alterations, including effects on hearing, psychomotor function, cognition, and gender- specific behaviors; effects on the reproductive organs; and hormonal changes (Baccarelli 2008; Mocarelli 2008; Wormley 2004). NO MORE BREASTFEEDING!!! Guess everything will need to change. Poeple need to read and understand facts before they start going vegatarian.

Dr R    
Seattle WA  |  January, 05, 2012 at 11:31 AM

About time the health of the public is put ahead of the profits of the industries. But I imagine there will be tens of millions of dollars trading hands in Congress to make this go away. You people should be ashamed, instead of taking the lead you choose greed and corruption instead. Way to go Christians! I'm sure your God will forgive you for the millions of cancers, birth defects and gender-bending you're responsible for. Or will he?

Tim Janecek    
Colorado  |  January, 05, 2012 at 12:00 PM

When will we remember the EPA was organized to enforce the rules NOT to make them. Let's not get weak and roll over for the BS anylonger. Our government has no idea what they are doing unless it pertains to thier own special interests. Get in touch with you congressman and try to make a difference, or a change- we are the voters and we should not forget it. Dioxins have been around for a very long time, why are they all the sudden a priority, mabe those guys need to find something constructive to do instead of messing around where they don't have a clue what they are doing.

USA  |  January, 05, 2012 at 12:11 PM

Meat = cocaine? Really ? The taking of public communal interests in private relationships, for example, between those who sell meat and those who eat meat is Achilles heal of American politics. Another weakness is the lack of accountability for those who profit from scare tactics that ruin American industry. Whether the scare is cancer from cell phone use, mercury in fish, dioxin in meat, global warming, there seems to be no accountability for lying, lying and more lying. America seems to have literally no internal defense to foreign interests destroying America's first tier status. Hate toward the wealthy is a give-away to the foreign agenda. Occupy, Marx, Stalin and Hitler all made villains of the welathy 1% for the same reason: to rob them. The madness returns. Who will speak out against it.

Ron Treatise    
Alabama  |  January, 05, 2012 at 01:37 PM

Occupy = Hitler? Really? You have committed the fallacies of hasty generalization, introducing a straw man (several, actually), questionable cause, appeal to fear, and likely several others. Let’s focus on the matter at hand and use valid and sound arguments, shall we? A just society must ask itself how to distribute those things which we value: income, wealth, health, power, and opportunities. The ability to sell whatever you want, at whatever the cost to society, is not the basis of a good society. To insist that your personal freedom should prevail at all times over competing considerations (e.g., of welfare and virtue) is not compatible in a just society. Unfettered markets are neither just nor free. Justice requires policies that remedy social (yes, that means the health of people who eat food) and economic disadvantages. Clearly, I did not equate meat with cocaine – that was a device you used to attack my premises. I made clear distinctions between the effects of each. I suggest you re-read it and ponder how your opinion might change if carrots, not meat, were at issue, and you just purchased a bag of them to feed your family.

Maureen Mack    
Oregon  |  January, 05, 2012 at 12:33 PM

The study referenced by the video was done in Uruguay from 1996 -2004, published in the Asian Pac J Cancer prevention. Norwegian scientists were the investigators. They concluded that more studies should be done. The second article referenced from the Journal of Reproductive Toxicoloy was simply a repeat statement of avoidance of fish ( mercury) by pregnant women. Keep in mind that publishing an article is the goal of many researchers --not actually reporting on facts of significance. The presenter on the video was a very poor speaker and should be ashamed of himself for generalizing scientific results.

Kyle Webb    
Homer, IL  |  January, 05, 2012 at 04:50 PM

@Bennie Whitworth: I think you're missing the blatant dripping sarcasm in that post.

Kyle Webb    
Homer, IL  |  January, 05, 2012 at 04:50 PM

@Bennie Whitworth: I think you're missing the blatant dripping sarcasm in that post.

Rowdy Randall    
mingus,texas  |  January, 05, 2012 at 05:18 PM

reckon we'll just need ta live on beer.

WY  |  January, 06, 2012 at 12:13 AM

Anyone else see the study from Europe about vegans having smaller brains ? If you raise animals and or eat meat HSUS hates you.

Peter Loney    
Canada  |  January, 06, 2012 at 02:48 AM

Leaving aside the politics and veg-meat debate, the question here is what the science says, whether the new rules are consistent with standards for levels of toxins in foods. Has anyone here with policy and/or scientific expertise looked at these questions critically?

USA  |  January, 06, 2012 at 03:08 PM

Can you see who the socialists are? I'm starting to see their point of view so.....we should have the socialists all move to California, Washington and/or New York, then all those flyover states that the network media and talk show hosts say don't really count just stop shipping all that poisonious food and energy products to those locations. We then won't be treading on them and they can eat all the organic food they want while cooling their homes with their solar power. There comes a time when the silent majority needs to wake up and stop accepting this crap. If they don't like what they have here in the USA.....MOVE. If you can't see what they are doing/have done to this country you're blind. Enough is enough!

Jonathan C.    
MO  |  January, 09, 2012 at 10:58 AM

Come on folks, this isn't a new regulation or requirement. It's a guideline, just like the suggested daily intake of fat. How many of us meet that every day? Did the food industry collapse as a result? No. And it didn't just pop out of nowhere. Research on the toxicity of dioxins and where they occur in the food chain has been continuous since they were discovered around about 1980. If more is known now, why should they not let us know? Would you rather they did the science and kept it to themselves? Finally, as both a public servant and a scientist (altho not for the EPA) I am offended by the suggestion that everything we do is political. Politics plays a role, but the vast majority of people doing this research are just doing their jobs. What the politicians, industry and the public do about the results, that's politics.

SD  |  January, 20, 2012 at 04:04 PM

Weren't the fear mongers demanding we replace all transformers on our rural electric lines with 'safe' ones some years back? Did that fail, that we now have dioxin poluting our food? Where does the dioxin originate, how does it get into the food? How can a solution be accomplished if we are not given that information by the fearmongers???

K Bryant    
Washington  |  February, 20, 2012 at 01:42 PM

Maxine - good question about "where does it come from". Many organizations have made it very clear where dioxin comes from - but i found that info missing from this article. Here it is: Some of the top U.S. companies that reported releasing dioxin into the environment in 2010 were Dow Chemical, Missouri Chemical Works, Gerdau Ameristeel, Lehigh Southwest Cement, Formosa Plastics Corporation, Temple-Inland, Cahaba Pressure Treated Forest Products, and Clean Harbors Aragonite. Three of these facilities make chemicals to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. Municipal waste incinerators, medical waste incinerators, landfill fires, and backyard burn barrels are some of the other top sources of dioxin in America.

K Bryant    
Washington  |  February, 20, 2012 at 01:40 PM

I'm not seeing it clearly pointed out where the dioxin in our meat comes from. It comes mainly from pollution - it is synthesized then released. Facts: Dioxin releases increased by 18% from 2009-2010 nationally. Dioxin air releases increased by 10%. Some of the top U.S. companies that reported releasing dioxin into the environment in 2010 were Dow Chemical, Missouri Chemical Works, Gerdau Ameristeel, Lehigh Southwest Cement, Formosa Plastics Corporation, Temple-Inland, Cahaba Pressure Treated Forest Products, and Clean Harbors Aragonite. Three of these facilities make chemicals to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. Municipal waste incinerators, medical waste incinerators, landfill fires, and backyard burn barrels are some of the other top sources of dioxin in America. So, the farmers aren't creating dioxin. It would be very welcome if meat farmers wanted food to be safer and were supportive of ways to stop releasing dioxin into the environment.

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