Metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are natural occurring chemical compounds. They can be present at various levels in the environment, e.g. soil, water and atmosphere. Metals can also occur as residues in food because of their presence in the environment, as a result of human activities such as farming, industry or car exhausts or from contamination during food processing and storage. People can be exposed to these metals from the environment or by ingesting contaminated food or water. Their accumulation in the body can lead to harmful effects over time.
EU regulatory framework
Commission Regulation 1881/2006 lays down maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuff, including lead, cadmium, mercury and inorganic tin. This Regulation does not cover radioactive substances. Commission Regulation 333/2007 covers the methods of sampling and analysis for the official control of the maximum levels of these metals. Surveillance for residues of chemical elements in foods of animal origin is specified in Council Directive 96/23/EC.
EFSA’s role and activities
EFSA provides scientific support and advice to risk managers based on risk assessments. The European Commission and EU Member States make decisions on regulatory issues including the setting of maximum levels for metals in food – EFSA’s scientific advice helps inform such decisions.
EFSA has been requested by the European Commission or Member States to provide risk assessments on uranium, cadmium, mercury, lead and arsenic in food. This work is carried out by the Panel on contaminants in the food chain (CONTAM Panel).