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CASCADE — Result In Brief

Project ID: 506319
Funded under: FP6-FOOD
Country: Sweden

Network to assess toxicity of food contaminants

European universities and small business came together to evaluate health risks posed by food contaminants. With EU funding, they developed centralised resources and a roadmap for future research.
Network to assess toxicity of food contaminants
Dietary chemical contaminants pose a major global health threat. Lack of comprehensive data makes it difficult to assess the risk with precision on the part of both scientists and consumers.

European researchers from 18 universities and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) initiated the ‘Chemicals as contaminants in the food chain: an NOE for research, risk assessment and education’ (Cascade) project. Their goal was to create a Network of Excellence (NoE) bringing together researchers to address gaps and harmonise the entire evaluation chain from sampling procedures to risk assessment to legislative measures.

Scientists focused on dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), substances of particular importance in terms of adverse health effects. These substances accumulate in the environment and in the fat cells of the body. Highly toxic, they can disrupt endocrine function (they are so-called endocrine disruptors) with important implications for growth, development, reproduction and even cancer.

Researchers from different disciplines worked together to develop a central library of resources (antibodies, relevant genes, etc.) and identify gaps in knowledge affecting risk assessment. Among these, the NoE stressed the importance and difficulty of measuring exposure levels rather than quantities in food as the latter does not adequately allow determination of risk.

The body metabolises substances in different ways producing a variety of intermediate products. Thus, biological markers of toxins (substances produced by the body in response to toxic input) are better predictors of risk. In addition, given that these chemicals and their toxic effects have only been measured recently, data on long-term, low-dose effects are lacking yet critically important.

As part of its work, Cascade’s coordinating body, the Karolinska Institute, has staffed a service focused on science and society that communicates research on endocrine disruptors to European food safety agencies and consumers.

Cascade’s coordinating endeavours have the potential to make an important impact on European consumer food safety and European consumer awareness.

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