=======================Electronic Edition========================
.                                                               .
.           RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #555           .
.                      ---July 17, 1997---                      .
.                          HEADLINES:                           .
.                  DIOXIN IN CHICKEN AND EGGS                   .
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The federal government has found evidence of dioxin contamination
in chickens, eggs, and farm-raised catfish, and has banned the
shipment of chickens and eggs from hundreds of producers.  The
ban initially included farm-raised catfish as well,[1] but the
Mississippi Congressional delegation successfully lobbied the FDA
(Food and Drug Administration) to exclude the catfish industry
from the ban, according to the WALL STREET JOURNAL.[2]  However,
today the FDA flip-flopped and now says catfish farmers have
until Sunday (July 20) to prove their fish contain less than one
part per trillion (ppt) of dioxin.[3]

Dioxin was declared a Class 1 carcinogen, or "known human
carcinogen," by the International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, in February,
1997.[4]  Furthermore, dioxin's non-cancer dangers loom larger
each year.  After studying dioxin intensely for a decade, U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency said 5 years ago that dioxin is
much more toxic than previously known. The agency said then,
"Indeed, these [dioxin] compounds are extremely potent in
producing a variety of effects in experimental animals based on
traditional toxicology studies at levels hundreds or thousands of
times lower than most chemicals of environmental interest." And:
"There is adequate evidence from studies in human populations as
well as in laboratory animals and from ancillary experimental
data to support the inference that humans are likely to respond
with a plethora [an abundance] of effects from exposure to dioxin
and related compounds." (See REHW #390; see also #391 and #414.)

The chicken-and-egg ban was announced July 8 and went into effect
July 13.[5]  As many as 350 chicken and egg producers may be
affected, most of them in Arkansas and Texas but some as far
flung as North Carolina, Indiana, and California.[2]  Companies
can sell their chickens and eggs again as soon as they
demonstrate that dioxin levels in their products are below one
part per trillion (ppt).[6]  There are only about 20 laboratories
in the U.S. that can test for dioxin at concentrations as low as
one part per trillion.  Dioxin testing often takes 30 days or
longer under normal circumstances.  With an entire industry
clamoring for data, some test results may be delayed even longer.

Dioxin does not occur naturally; it is created as an unplanned
and unwanted byproduct of metal smelting, pesticide manufacture,
and all types of incineration (medical, solid waste, and
hazardous waste).

The source of the dioxin in chickens, eggs, and catfish is
reported to be a contaminated soybean-based feed produced by two
companies --Riceland Foods, Inc., and Quincy Soybean Co. --both
located in Arkansas.  Between them, these two companies send feed
to 350 customers, providing an estimated 1% of all animal feed in
the U.S.[5] The dioxin reportedly appeared when bentonite clay
(sometimes called "ball clay") was added to the feed to prevent
clumping and improve flow.  Bentonite is familiar to most people
as the main ingredient in kitty litter.  The dioxin-contaminated
bentonite has been traced to an open-pit bentonite mine near
Sledge, Mississippi, operated by the Kentucky-Tennessee Ball Clay
Company.[5]  The source of the dioxin in the ball clay is
unknown.  Bentonite deposits are a favorite place to bury
hazardous wastes because the wastes tend to stick to the clay and
move only slowly thereafter.  There is no evidence that hazardous
waste was buried in the Sledge mine.

Until now, the U.S. has never set standards for dioxin in food.
The one-part-per-trillion standard was set last week by FDA as a
"level of concern" for this single instance of dioxin
contamination of animal feed; it is not to be taken as a "general
action level for dioxin in foods," government officials
emphasize.  In essence, FDA has declared that chickens and eggs
are contaminated and unfit for human consumption if they contain
more than 1 ppt dioxin.  Yet the agency initially, in a political
compromise, exempted the most contaminated food: farm-raised
catfish.  A 1994 study found that farm-raised Mississippi catfish
fillets contained dioxin at levels ranging from 10.2 to 27.8
ppt.[7] The FDA's stance seems certain to create public confusion
and deep anger among chicken and egg producers.  Some 2000
workers in Arkansas were told to stay home earlier this week when
the FDA ban on chickens and eggs went into effect.[8]  The
ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE reported today that half the eggs
produced in Arkansas this week have failed the 1 ppt dioxin test
and cannot be sold.[3]  Test data were not made public.

U.S. EPA began looking for dioxin in food in the early 1990s, as
part of the agency's ongoing dioxin reassessment. (See REHW #390,
#391.)  In early drafts of its dioxin reassessment report, EPA
said 95% of human exposure to dioxins occurs chiefly through
eating red meat, fish, and dairy products (milk, cream, cheese,
ice cream).  This prompted more government studies of dioxin in
cheese, fish, pork and chicken.[9]

In September, 1996, U.S. EPA found that 2 of 80 samples of
chicken had elevated levels of dioxin: 3.9 and 3.2 parts per
trillion.  Each sample was a composite of tissues taken from
several birds.  The other 78 samples reportedly averaged 0.09
ppt.[10]  The two unusual samples came from Tyson plants in Pine
Bluff, Arkansas and Seguin, Texas.  Those two samples gave rise
to additional testing, which led to the present ban on chickens
and eggs.

In announcing the ban, FDA emphasized again and again that there
was no immediate health hazard from eating chicken, eggs, or
catfish even if they are contaminated at 3 or 4 parts per
trillion.  "Consumers should not hesitate to consume eggs and
catfish they have at home or purchase on the retail market," FDA
officials said.[11]  "Dioxin is something where you care about
your cumulative lifetime exposure," said FDA Deputy Commissioner
Mary Pendergast.  "This was an avoidable contamination, and we're
basically turning off the faucet."[12]

Pat Costner, a Greenpeace chemist, put the dioxin numbers into
perspective this way: The U.S. EPA says one cancer in a million
persons can be expected to occur with a daily intake of 0.01
picograms of dioxin per kilogram of body weight per day for a
lifetime. (See REHW #390.)  (A picogram is a trillionth of a
gram; a trillion is a million million.)  Therefore, a 70 kilogram
(154 pound) person should not take in more than 0.7 picograms per
day to keep the cancer danger below one-in-a-million.  Five
ounces of chicken meat contaminated with 3 ppt of dioxin would
contain a total dioxin load of 420 picograms, or about 600 times
what EPA might consider an adults's acceptable daily intake of
0.7 picograms per day.

Put another way: if an adult ate 43 5-ounce servings of chicken
containing 3 ppt of dioxin, they would exceed the EPA's
recommended LIFETIME dose of dioxin from those 43 meals alone.
Many Americans eat far more than 43 servings of chicken every

In 1992 EPA said the average American is routinely taking in,
from all sources of food and water, somewhere between 300 and 600
times the "acceptable" 0.7 picograms of dioxin each day. (See
REHW #390.) Clearly, reducing our dioxin intake is good public
health policy.

If the new 1 ppt "level of concern" were applied to foods in
general, it might create serious problems for the food industry.
For example, a 1994 study of foods purchased in an upstate New
York supermarket found 1.5 ppt dioxin in ground beef.[13]

In 1992, EPA analyzed 60 fish samples from 34 fresh and estuarine
sites where there were no obvious industrial dioxin sources.
They found that the average dioxin concentration in the 60
samples was 1.2 ppt.[14] This represented the fillet (edible)
portions of the fish.

Thus there is evidence that neither ground beef nor fish might be
considered fit for human consumption in the U.S. if they were
judged by the 1 ppt "level of concern" that FDA has recently
adopted for chicken and eggs.

People in Arkansas are extremely angry at the federal
government's seemingly-arbitrary imposition of the 1 part per
trillion standard.[15] The "no immediate health hazard" language
and the flip-flopping on catfish has given people the impression
that there is no good reason for the ban.

"This is obviously regulation overkill on the part of the FDA and
the [Environmental Protection Agency]," said Arkansas Governor
Mike Huckabee.  "What they're going to end up doing, with no
scientific data to support them, is put thousands of Arkansans
out of work either permanently or temporarily and possibly go a
long way toward destroying our economy."[15]

In actual fact, the federal government has volumes of data
showing that dioxin harms wildlife and humans at exceedingly low
levels. (See REHW #390, #391.)  Dioxin's most powerful effects
are seen in the reproductive system, the endocrine (hormone)
system, and the immune system. Most sensitive of all are newborn
infants and fetuses exposed while in the womb. In 1992, EPA
wrote, "In mammals, postnatal functional alterations involving
learning behavior and the developing reproductive system appear
to be the developmental events most sensitive to perinatal dioxin
exposure.  The developing immune system may also be highly
sensitive."  In other words, dioxin exposure of mammals
(including humans) shortly before or shortly after birth
("perinatal") are most likely to impair intellectual development
and the immune system.  The immune system protects against
bacterial and viral disease, and cancer, so damage to the immune
system can invite other serious diseases. (See REHW #390.)

Some effects --such as degradation of the human immune system
--seem to occur at dioxin levels that the average American is
already carrying around in his or her body.  However, because FDA
has couched its ban in the language of "no immediate threat to
health," and because catfish were initially exempted, then
included, people naturally assume there really is no threat to
health from dioxin and that the ban is somehow entirely political.

Thus FDA's ban on chickens and eggs seems likely to undermine the
credibility of the federal government in general, and its
emerging dioxin policies in particular.  Inadvertently or not,
government seems to be playing into the hands of the Chemical
Manufacturers Association (CMA) and the Chlorine Chemistry
Council (CCC). CMA and CCC say that the dangers of dioxin have
been greatly exaggerated to suit the political purposes of
environmental zealots who are really just interested in promoting
Big Government.
                                                --Peter Montague
                (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

[1] Lawrence Bachorik, "FDA Stops Distribution of Some Eggs and
Catfish Because of Dioxin-Contaminated Animal Feed," HHS NEWS
[T-97-29] July 7, 1997.  Available on the world wide web; see
http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/. Mr. Bachorik's phone: (301)

[2] Bruce Ingersoll, "U.S. is Banning Some Poultry Fearing
Dioxin," WALL STREET JOURNAL July 15, 1997, pg. unknown.

[3] Don Chaney and Chuck Plunkett, "Dioxin-testing halts egg
shipments; fish face weekend deadline," ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
July 17, 1997, pg. 1. Thanks to Pat Costner for all articles

[4] The new IARC label for dioxin will be published in Volume 69
HUMANS.  The IARC can be contacted at: IARC, 150 Cours Albert
Thomas, 69372 Lyon, France.

[5] Mark M. Mina, Deputy Administrator, Field Operations, Food
Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture,
"TO: Owners and Custodians of Poultry, Livestock, and Eggs," July
8, 1997.  Available on the world wide web:
http://www.usda.gov/agency/fsis/dioxinlt.htm .

[6] Carol M. Seymour, Acting Deputy Administrator, Food Safety
and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, "To
District Managers: Guidance for Reprocessing of Broilers Exposed
to Dioxin-Contaminated Feed," July 13, 1997.  Available from:
Jacque (pronounced Jackie) Knight of USDA at (202) 720-4623.

[7] H. Fiedler and others, "Polychlorinated dibenzo-P-dioxins and
polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/PCDF) in food samples
collected in southern Mississippi, USA," CHEMOSPHERE Vol. 34, No.
5 (March 1997), pgs. 1411-1419.  Thanks to Pat Costner for this

[8] Chuck Plunkett and Don Chaney, "Dioxin Ruling Keeps 2,000
Workers Home," ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE July 15, 1997, pg. 1.

[9] "FDA Launches Study on Dioxin in Fish, Dairy Foods," FOOD
CHEMICAL NEWS February 27, 1995.

[10] "Soybean Processing Solvent May Have Led to Dioxin
Contamination," FOOD CHEMICAL NEWS June 23, 1997.

[11] "US FDA stops catfish, egg shipments over dioxin," REUTERS
FINANCIAL REPORT [wire service] July 7, 1997.

[12] Pendergast quoted in Associated Press, "FDA finds elevated
dioxin levels in some chicken feed," July 3, 1997.

[13] Arnold Schecter and others, "Congener-specific Levels of
Dioxins and Dibenzofurans in U.S. Food and Estimated Daily Dioxin
102, No. 11 (November 1994), pgs. 962-966.

[14] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ESTIMATING EXPOSURE TO
AND BACKGROUND EXPOSURES [EPA/600/6-88/005Cb; June 1994 External
Review Draft] (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, 1994), pgs. 4-21 and 4-37.

[15] Don Chaney and Chuck Plunkett, "Fish industry not off
dioxin-test hook," ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE, July 16, 1997, pg.

Descriptor terms: dioxin; poultry; chickens; eggs; catfish;
aquaculture; ar; ms; tx; fda; epa; regulation; food safety; meat;
iarc; carcinogens; immune system; feed; bentonite; ball clay;
tyson; pat costner; livestock feed;

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