Launch of a European project to harmonise and facilitate the monitoring of food contaminants

Several European countries regularly conduct studies to monitor the exposure of their populations to chemical contaminants through their daily diet (known as “total diet studies”, or TDS). A European project called "TDS_EXPOSURE" is being launched today in order to harmonise the methods used to conduct these studies and therefore facilitate their implementation and the comparison of results. Intended to run for four years, this project is being coordinated by ANSES and brings together 26 partners from 19 different European countries.

Knowledge about the possible chemical contamination of foods and their nutrient composition is a major tool for food safety and nutrition policy. It allows us to determine the population's dietary exposure and thus to support the government in its decision-making with regard to risk management.

In France, chemical contamination of food is regularly monitored within a regulatory framework through control and surveillance plans, overseen by the competent ministries. This knowledge can then be supplemented and reinforced by total diet studies. These aim to quantify the dietary intake of contaminants from the total diet, rather than from a single food category in isolation, and to monitor "background" levels of each population's dietary exposure to substances of interest in public health. Two TDSs have been carried out in France, the second of which was led by ANSES. The Agency is currently conducting an infant TDS focusing on the diet of children aged 0-3 years.

Aiming for European harmonisation of TDSs and the creation of a European network

Currently, some Member States of the European Union do not yet have their own total diet studies. Moreover, the methodologies used are heterogeneous, which complicates the comparison of results between countries and therefore the regulatory decision-making at European level. As a result, the European Union has decided to fund a research project promoting a common methodology for use at European level for conducting exposure studies for various food contaminants, such as heavy metals, mycotoxins, pesticide residues and persistent organic pollutants such as dioxins. This project, called TDS_EXPOSURE, is being launched today. Coordinated by ANSES, it brings together 26 partners from 19 different European countries for a period of 4 years (2012 to 2016).
As part of this project, the methods used to define classes of contaminants targeted by the TDS, to sample the studied foods and to model exposure, will be assessed and harmonised. A database will be created, combining data from existing total diet studies in Europe, and pilot studies will be implemented in five countries that do not currently have their own total diet study, or that wish to change their methodology (Germany, Finland, Iceland, Portugal and the Czech Republic).
The project will improve the assessment and therefore the management of the risks associated with chemical contaminants in our food. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Union's Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are the key stakeholders interested in this initiative and will be following its progress and results closely.

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ANSES conducted the Second French Total Diet Study, whose results were published in June 2011. They confirm that the health risks associated with the potential presence of chemical contaminants in food are being adequately controlled in France, while highlighting, for specific population groups, areas of vigilance with respect to certain substances. From 2012, these results will be used in different ways, including the development of new analytical methods to improve detection of certain substances, the analysis of study results on a regional level, and screening for other contaminants (endocrine disruptors, drug residues) in food samples stored for the study. At the same time, the Agency is also conducting an infant TDS focusing on the diet of children aged 0-3 years.