Internationally agreed testing methods for endocrine disruptive chemicals (EDCs) will become available shortly and will help with the risk assessment of them, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
In an opinion issued yesterday, EFSA's Scientific Committee (SC) said the introduction of new tests and testing strategies would greatly help determine safe levels of EDCs for food contact purposes. It expects further development on these shortly.
"The SC considers that a reasonably complete suite of assays is (or will soon be) available to identify and characterise the important hazards of EATS [oestrogen, androgen, thyroid or steroidogenesis] substances in mammals and fish, with fewer tests available for birds and amphibians," the SC states in its opinion.
It adds that criteria for assessing if they do have a negative impact is uncertain, so decisions need to be based on a "weight of evidence approach".
'Gaps and further work'
Chairman of the SC Professor Tony Hardy told FoodProductionDaily.com: "We looked at the testing programme, the structure of tests and their coverage and concluded they are reasonably complete for four main endocrine pathways. We made recommendations as to gaps and further work on wider issues which ought to be taken up.
"If you look at the testing programme there are a range of tests already validated and agreed, but also a number of other screens currently in development."
There are also other areas for testing that would not currently be covered and EFSA is encouraging the research community to look into those.
Timescales for establishing these tests depended on criteria including internal validation by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and external validation by member countries, said Hardy.
In addition, the SC calls for further research and test development into a number of areas:
- the effect of such substances on organs during critical stages of development, such as foetal and pubertal, for which data is inconclusive, it claims;
- the effects of combined exposure to multiple EAS, which EFSA plans to look at separately;
- the impact of low-dose effects
Many of these topics also applied to other chemicals, not just EASs, said Hardy. They would dovetail with existing work EFSA was conducting into exposure to combinations of different chemicals and multiple doses of the same chemical from a variety of sources. The latest activity here was in the field of pesticides, said Hardy.
EAS should be subject to risk assessment and not just hazard assessment, he added. "The question we were asked is how to identify endocrine disruptors, but that's all really about stressing the hazard.
"From EFSA's point of view as a risk assessment body, it's not only about the hazard itself, but the extent to which consumers are exposed to it."
Regarding EFSA’s review of current test methods, chairman of the SC Professor Tony Hardy said: “This was an important part of our work and it contributes to EU and international discussions in this area.
"We concluded that current tests generally are adequate for mammals, fish and to a lesser extent also for birds and amphibians and cover four important endocrine pathways. However no single test is sufficient to decide whether a substance is an endocrine disruptor and several tests need to be done and then assessed together by experts in a weight-of-evidence approach.”
The EFSA opinion follows the move on March 15 by members of the European Parliament to back a proposal to list EDCs as "substances of very high concern" under the REACH chemical legislation. Current rules should be reviewed with a view to updating or proposing legislation by June 2015, they decided.