The Government's Committee on Toxicity has today agreed to back European Commission calls for tough new safety limits on the level of dioxins in people's food.  The new limits will be five times lower than those currently existing in the UK.  The Food Standards Agency has also revealed today that one third of the UK population regularly consumes food that contains unsafe levels of dioxins.

Friends of the Earth today called on the Government to:  produce a national strategy to reduce dioxin levels; call a moratorium on new sources such as incineration; ban other chemicals which, like dioxins, build-up in people's bodies.  Dioxins have been linked to  cancers, hormone disruption and skin diseases.

Dioxins are widespread in food and the environment due to releases from factories and bonfires   [see league table on most polluting factories below]  .  People's bodies are also contaminated with dioxins, as well as scores of other persistent and bio-accumulative chemicals.  Although dioxin intakes in the UK have fallen by 80 per cent over the last twenty years, the European Commission is warning that levels are beginning to rise again in some areas.

The Government's Committee on Toxicity has agreed to new safety guidelines proposed by the European Commission.  This states that people should not be exposed to more than two picogrammes of dioxin per kilogramme of body weight per day (one picogramme is one thousandth of a billionth of a gramme).  Babies, however, are exposed to far higher levels of dioxins than this because breast milk contains the dioxins which have built up in the mother during her life [note that it is widely accepted that despite this contamination, breast feeding is still the best option for feeding a baby].

The vast bulk of exposure to dioxins comes from food contamination.  Friends of the Earth supports the sound advice from the Food Standards Agency for people to continue to eat a  balanced diet, but is demanding Government takes action to reduce dioxin contamination, namely:

* A national strategy to reduce dioxin levels in food and the environment (including action to reduce dioxin releases from existing sources);
*    A moratorium on new sources of dioxins, such as incinerators, until levels in food are well below the level suggested by the Government experts;
*    A ban on other chemicals which build up in people's bodies and the environment.  The European Commission has proposed action against these types of chemicals but the chemical industry is opposing controls.  167 MPs have already signed a parliamentary petition (EDM 173) supporting action on these chemicals.

Charles Secrett, Executive Director at Friends of the Earth, said: "Margaret Beckett and others must cut the release of these dangerous substances into the environment.  This means a moratorium on the building of new incinerators and other sources of dioxins until food contamination levels fall below the new recommended level.  The Government needs a dioxin reduction strategy and needs it quickly.  Meanwhile, consumers should listen to the sound advice from the Food Standards Agency and eat a balanced diet whilst not over-consuming fatty foods and oily fish."