August 27, 2021

The European Union has set tougher limits on cadmium and lead levels in food, with the new rules coming into force at the end of August.

Officials at the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, say the changes in cadmium and lead permitted limits are being brought in as part of wider efforts to cut the amounts of carcinogens in foods.

The rules on lead take effect from August 30, and those on cadmium the following day, although there will be a transition period for some foodstuffs.

In a statement, the European commissioner for health and food safety, Stella Kyriakides, said that the decision to introduce the revised cadmium and lead regulations “aims to put consumers at the forefront by making our food safer and healthier”.

“It is also a further step in strengthening the European Union’s already high and world-class standards on the EU food chain and providing safer, healthier and more sustainable food to consumers,” she added.

She said the maximum levels of cadmium, which is sometimes found in fruits, vegetables, cereals and oilseeds, would be lowered for “some of these foodstuffs”.

“Certain commodities will also have to fulfil this requirement from the date of entry into force of the new regulation,” she said.

“This new measure will enhance the safety of food sold and consumed in the EU and help withdraw food products with the highest cadmium concentrations from the market.”

A heavy metal, cadmium is thought to cause several types of cancer and, for non-smokers, food is the main source of exposure.

Many types of food typically regarded as healthy can contain the metal, among them vegetables, including root vegetables, nuts and pulses, and cereals and products made from them. Meat and meat-derived foods may also contain cadmium.

“The maximum levels of lead in many food products, including foods intended for infants and young children, will be reduced,” said Ms Kyriakides.

Efforts to cut exposure to lead have been taking place for decades, with the sale of leaded petrol phased out by the European Commission about two decades ago.

The heavy metal, which has been detected in baby food, salt and spices, harms the development of children and can cause heart problems and other issues in adults.

Concerns about cadmium and lead have previously been highlighted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the decision to reduce the levels of these metals in foods follows on from “opinions” released by the organisation.

The EFSA issued an opinion on cadmium in 2009, which warned that safe levels of exposure in the EU were often exceeded. An opinion it released on lead the following year warned about the risks to the development of children.

The European Union has set tougher limits cadmium and lead levels in food, with the new rules coming into force at the end of August.

It is not just processed or farm-produce that will be covered by the revised regulations, with the limits on lead also being applied to wild mushrooms.

The United States Food and Drug Administration, which has a similar role to EFSA in monitoring and regulating foods in the US, reports that lead is found in food because of its presence in the environment.

Plants may absorb lead from the soil and it may not be possible to remove it through thorough washing. Lead may also be consumed by farm animals when they eat plant material or drink water, and subsequently be ingested by people.

Other sources of lead include manufacturing processes, the FDA reports, such as when plumbing systems contaminate water supplies.

As well as providing input on cadmium and lead, the EFSA also played a major role in a decision by the EU earlier this year to give the green light to the human consumption of mealworms.

As reported by Sial Paris Newsroom, the European Union approved dried yellow mealworms as food, the first time that insects for human consumption has been given the thumbs up.

Shortly after the decision, research by scientists based in the Netherlands found that protein in mealworms is just as easily absorbed by the body and incorporated into muscles as milk protein.

Join us at SIAL Paris as exhibitor Join us at SIAL Paris as visitor