Dioxin in US beef

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Levels of dioxin in US beef in a 10.2-ton shipment to South Korea were found to have exceeded norms when tested December 21, 2006, the Associated Press reported. "6.26 picograms of the toxic substance" was found in one gram of fat; "South Korean standards allow no more than 5 picograms per gram of fat. A picogram is equivalent to a trillionth of a gram."

"The chemicals were found after [the National Veterinary Research Quarantine Service] had ordered the return of the shipment because of the beef had bone fragments," Bloomberg reported December 22, 2006. "South Korea's government has informed the U.S. of the findings and asked for an explanation, the quarantine service said."

South Korea rejected "three recent shipments of beef for including banned bone fragments, which South Korea fears could potentially harbor mad cow disease." South Korea banned US beef in December 2003 after the disease was first reported. "Imports recently resumed," the AP wrote, "but so far no beef has made it to South Korean food stores or restaurants."

"Kim Mee-kyung, a senior researcher at the quarantine service, said dioxin is sometimes found in beef due to environmental pollution in the food chain. She said dioxin testing is carried out at random on about 100 samples of imported beef a year," the AP wrote.

The American Meat Institute "downplayed the importance of South Korean scientists finding trace amounts of dioxin in a shipment of U.S. beef," Dow Jones reported. "'Dioxin is ubiquitous in the environment,' the AMI said in a release attributed to president J. Patrick Boyle. 'In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the leading source of dioxin today is backyard refuse burning. ... Dioxin can be found in many food products at de minimis levels that are far below any cause for public health concern,' Boyle said. 'Unfortunately, the Korean government is demonstrating that they have no real desire to resume full and fair trade with the U.S., as the product they tested for dioxin had already been rejected for other reasons.'"

About Dioxins

"Dioxins belong to a class of 75 chemicals with similar properties; the most toxic is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). Dioxins are known to cause cancer, immune suppression, and birth defects in animals. They can act as endocrine disruptors, which means that they have the ability to mimic or block hormones in the body." [1]

"The main sources of dioxins are municipal waste incineration, metal smelting, medical waste incineration, chemical and plastic manufacturing, and pulp/paper bleaching. Dioxins can travel long distances in the atmosphere via air currents. Rain, snow and dust carry it to the ground, and it eventually enters the food chain when animals, such as cattle, graze on the dioxin-contaminated crops. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over 90% of our exposure to dioxins is through food, with major sources including beef, dairy products, milk, chicken, pork, fish and eggs. Dioxins are also passed from mother to developing infant across the placenta and through breastfeeding.

"Dioxins and related compounds are highly persistent in the environment and in living organisms. It is believed that almost all living beings on earth have dioxin-like compounds in their body tissue. No amount of dioxin exposure can be considered safe, as very small amounts have been associated with impaired development, reproduction, neurological, and immune function. The EPA’s most recent report concluded that the cancer risk to the general population from dioxin is now as high as one in one hundred people. Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind." [2]

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