As we approach the EPA’s self-imposed deadline at the end of January to complete the non cancer portion of the long awaited dioxin reassessment, there’s been a sudden rash of news stories about dioxin. One theme coming from the agriculture and food industry is that the diet of the American public will suffer because we will no longer be able to follow the Federal Dietary Guidelines often characterized as the food pyramid. Nothing could be further from the truth. How is it that the industry just makes this stuff up?
Dioxin is a general term used to describe a family of over 200 chemicals that are not intentionally made. Dioxins are unintentional by-products of numerous industrial processes such as paper, pesticide, and chemical manufacturing that include chlorine (such as PVC) and of combustion processes such as medical and municipal waste incineration.
Although dioxins are environmental contaminants, the American public is exposed primarily though our diet, with over 95% coming through dietary intake of animal fats, primarily meat and dairy. So the best way to reduce exposure to dioxin is to actually follow the advice in the Federal Dietary Guidelines which EPA readily acknowledges. These guidelines (see www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/) include the recommendations to choose a variety of meat and dairy products that are lean, low fat, or fat free, and to increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products. Meat, milk, and fish are important sources of nutrients and a balanced diet. Milk is a major source of calcium, vitamins A and D, and riboflavin; meat is an important source of iron, zinc and several B-vitamins; fish provides beneficial fatty acids as well as certain vitamins and minerals. Each of these foods provides high quality protein in the diet. Lean meat includes meats that are naturally lower in fat, and meat where visible fat has been trimmed. For fish and poultry you can reduce fat by removing the skin. Reducing the amount of butter or lard used in the preparation of foods and cooking methods that reduce fat (such as oven broiling) will also lower the risk of exposure to dioxin. These strategies will help lower the intake of saturated fats as well as reduce the risk of exposure to dioxin.
A report issued in 2003 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies (formed when the issue of dioxin in food first came to light) came to a similar conclusion that following the dietary guidelines and limiting the intake of saturated fat would produce basic health benefits in addition to reducing dioxin exposures. Other key recommendations in the IOM report included reducing the contamination of animal feed and interrupting the recycling of dioxins that result from the use animal fat in feed products (see http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10763).
More must be done to reduce industrial emissions of dioxins, but we can greatly reduce individual exposure by following the Federal Dietary Guidelines and reducing the intake of saturated fat by choosing meat and dairy products that are lean, low fat, or fat free, and by increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products.