Food industry groups are concerned that the Obama Administration will move forward with a dioxin standard that could frighten consumers about the safety of their diets.

This fall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized a May 2010 draft report in which the reference dose of dioxin was stated as 0.7 picogram per kilogram per day. In other words, that is the “safe” dose for humans to consume on a daily basis.

When food groups analyzed that number, “what we discovered was that the average consumer would exceed the reference dose” after just one meal or heavy snack, says Steve Kopperud, coordinator for the Food Industry Dioxin Working Group representing a number of agricultural groups, including the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation.

Ag groups are concerned that the number will get publicized further when the EPA releases its non-cancer-dioxin-risk-assessment report at the end of January (with the cancer risk-assessment report scheduled to follow).

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,” he adds.

Dioxin is a known carcinogen that occurs naturally in the environment. “The primary sources of dioxin today are forest fires, grass fires and volcanic eruptions,” says Kopperud, who also serves as government affairs consultant for the American Feed Industry Association. Dioxin can go airborne, drop on the soil and accumulate. Uptake can then occur by vegetation in the area — and the animals that eat the vegetation. Within animals, dioxins tend to accumulate in fat.

“EPA has tried in various administrations since 1986 to come up with a risk assessment on dioxin that passes scientific scrutiny,” Kopperud told Dairy Herd Management on Wednesday. But the agency’s conclusions have been criticized along the way, most recently by the National Academy of Sciences in 2006. Then, in a report released in May 2010, the EPA came up with the 0.7 picogram per kilogram “safe” dose that many are now criticizing as over-precautionary.

EPA’s proposed standard is far more stringent than current international science-based standards, the working group wrote in a Dec. 7 letter to Melody Barnes, assistant to President Obama for domestic policy. “It sets a dioxin exposure threshold lower than any government entity in the world, including the European Union.”

The EPA standard would be three times more stringent than the European Union standard, Kopperud points out. And, the EU is “one of the most precautionary governments on the planet,” he adds. “In the case of dioxin, the U.S. would be the most precautionary.”

Besides the impact on consumers, “the trade implications are incredible,” he says. For instance, the Asian markets might use the policy against the U.S., saying the U.S. has to “test and prove” the food is safe. Some countries temporarily suspended purchases of U.S. beef when a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) occurred in this country in 2003, although Japan held out for years.

Dioxin notwithstanding, the U.S. agricultural industry has become concerned over some of the regulations coming down from the Obama Administration.  Read, “One-year reprieve on EPA regulations possible.”