DENMARK – The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (Fdevarestyrelsen) and the DTU National Food Institute have detected the environmental pollutant per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in organic egg yolks from Danish chicken farms, posing a risk to consumers.

PFAs, which are classified as fluorinated chemicals, do not break down in the environment. Instead, the 4,700 synthetic compounds in this group bioaccumulate in the environment, earning PFAs a new moniker: “forever chemicals.”

They can migrate and accumulate throughout the food chain – from fish to fishmeal, which is included in chicken feed, via the hen to the egg, where it binds to the protein in the yolk and can then be eaten by humans. 

DTU warns that the most vulnerable segment of the population, as a result of the study’s conclusions, are children aged four to nine who eat more than 2.5 organic eggs per week. 

Fødevarestyrelsen concurs, suggesting the population, in general, should limit themselves to just two eggs a week for the foreseeable future.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has set the tolerable weekly intake of the sum of four specific PFAS (PFOA, PFNA, PFHxS, and PFOS) at 4.4 nanograms per kg body weight per week.

When it is in humans, it can take three to seven years before the substance concentration is halved.

“PFAS are not substances that make you acutely ill, but if you consume too big amounts for many years, the immune system can be adversely affected, such as by impairing the effect of childhood vaccinations, increasing cholesterol levels in the blood, and reducing birth weight,” said Associate Professor Kit Granby of the DTU National Food Institute.

Although PFAS has been found in cage- and free-range eggs, the levels are far lower than those seen in organic eggs.

The compounds are probably spread through fishmeal, which is a component of the hens’ diet.

Large flocks of chickens that eat organic feed were discovered to have uniform concentrations and compositions of PFAS chemicals, which led to the discovery of this link.

As a result, the study draws the conclusion that the presence of PFAS in fishmeal may be to blame for the frequent finding of the chemical in rainwater and groundwater. 

“The authorities shall perform national monitoring programs to control PFAS in the major food raw materials for PFAS and report to the EU. Both obligations shall protect the consumers from dietary exposure to chemical contaminants including PFAS,” Granby explained.

Granby went on to say that some organic feed producers from other countries also add fish meal to organic feed which can contaminate the eggs.

“The Danish industry of organic eggs and the feed producers of organic feed for egg-laying hens has in the Danish media voluntarily agreed to replace fishmeal in organic feed for egg-laying hens,” she said.

Children between the ages of four and nine who consume more than 2.5 organic eggs per week run the danger of consuming too much PFAS.

Kids who eat five to six eggs per week consume ten nanograms per kg of body weight per week which is a significant quantity.

Danish citizens are additionally exposed to PFAS from various meals, all of which add up to the total consumption.

“When children are at risk of being exposed to more than twice as much PFAS solely from eggs as the amount that is the limit for a safe intake, the risk is noticeable. Especially when the intake for all age groups is close to the limit of what EFSA assesses as safe,” said Granby.

The EU introduced maximum levels in whole eggs for the four PFAS and the sum of them on January 1, 2023.

This means food items sold before that date might exceed the new maximum levels. It is expected that the EU will later introduce maximum levels in feed, as it has been implemented for other environmental pollutants.

“Egg eaters and eaters of free range eggs are already aware of contamination with dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs from atmospheric deposition, which currently are controlled if they are within the EU maximum levels of the contaminants,” she added.

It lasts four to seven days before the contents of PFOS and PFOA, PFHxS in eggs from hens that have consumed contaminated feed are halved. 

Therefore, the DTU National Food Institute believes the current problem can be solved.

“Our investigations indicate that the unwanted substance has been transferred to the eggs via fishmeal in the chicken feed. 

“Therefore, a replacement with a non-contaminated feed ingredient could, within a few weeks, significantly reduce the content of PFAS in the eggs,” Granby concluded.

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