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Researchers voice concern over organochlorine levels in EU cheese

By Mark Astley, 20-Feb-2013

Related topics: R&D

Researchers have discovered levels of dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (DL-PCB) in excess of European Union (EU)-established limits in a small number of commonly available cheese brands – a find they have described as “worrisome.”

Scientists at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria analysed 61 commonly available cheese brands – 54 conventional and seven organic – to assess their relevance as a source of organochlorines.

Organochlorine contaminants include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) and dioxins (PCDDs). The substances are considered carcinogenic and mutagenic – they can cause cancer and other induce DNA mutations

In their study, Levels of organochlorine contaminants in organic and conventional cheeses and their impact on the health of consumers, the researchers found that organochlorine levels in the majority of samples were lower than the EU maximum residue level (MRL).

In a few cases, however, it was higher than the EU-established level.

Health effects “worrisome”

“We observed that cheese consumption could be a major exposure route for DL-PCBs and also, on a much smaller scale, for OCPs. Our results are worrisome because to the deleterious health effects have been attributed to organochlorine contaminants exposure,” said the study.

The EU recommends that levels of DL-PCBs should not exceed 3 picograms WHO-TEQ (a toxicity measurement promoted by the World Health Organisation) per gram of cheese fat. Levels of up to 76 picograms WHO-TEQ per gram of fat were discovered in the samples.

According to the study, people consuming the most contaminated brands could have an intake well above the tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 2 picograms WHO-TEQ per kilogram of body weight per day.

“People consuming the most contaminated brands could have an EDI well above the recommended TDI. These results are of concern as the adverse health effects exerted by dioxin-like compounds are well known,” said the research document.

Take results “with caution”

The researchers warned, however, that the results should be “taken with caution.”

“However, our results should be taken with caution because there are cheese brands that are highly contaminated by organochlorine contaminants, but there were a number of cheese brands that showed undetectable levels of these toxicants,” the study added.