A two-day summit on the potential health hazards from low levels of chemicals in food and packaging has pushed the debate forward – although major questions remain unanswered, said event hosts the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The region’s leading food safety watchdog convened the international conference last week in response to the dispute that is raging in the global scientific community over the validity of the so-called low-dose hypothesis.
According to this theory, some substances, particularly endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A (BPA), can cause be harmful to human health at low doses but not all higher amounts.
If proved to be correct, the model would turn the accepted basis for risk assessment on its head – one that is founded on the premise that the higher the dose, the greater the chemical’s effect.
Low-dose supporters claim an increasing body of scientific work supports the notion but a major number of scientists retain doubts over its legitimacy.
The agency, which currently does not back the low dose theory, is due to deliver it verdict on the hypothesis in the autumn.
Asked whether EFSA could give an initial assessment on whether its position on the issue had shigted after the event, an agency spokesman told FoodQualityNews.com: "The vast majority of scientists who participated in the discussions were there in their own capacity and not representing EFSA in any way. As such, there’s no EFSA position on this and we can not talk in terms of experts being more or less convinced."
He added: "This won’t be the case either in autumn when the overall report will be published."
Important implications for risk assessment
EFSA’s colloquium in Parma saw risk assessors, risk managers, scientists and stakeholders from 21 countries across three continents put the issue under the microscope during two days of discussion and lectures.
The aim was not to find consensus but to provide a forum for open debate among key scientific experts, the agency spokesman.
The atmosphere at the event was “constructive” as attendees examined existing views and current scientific evidence, said Claudia Heppner, head of EFSA’s food packaging and ingredients unit.
She noted the potential significance of the summit and the consequences it could have for the future work of the agency.
“This is important for considering whether or not EFSA needs to look at the low-dose hypothesis in more detail. It could have an important impact on EFSA’s work in several areas,” added the panel chief.
However, Alexandre Feigenbaum, who co-chaired the event, stressed that while forum had been useful, no firm conclusions had been reached.
“There are still many uncertainties surrounding this debate but we have moved the discussion on this week,” he said. “We have identified some key scientific questions and next steps in terms of methodology requirements, research gaps, appropriate testing strategies and methods, and the use of predictive tools. The debate will go on and needs to involve a range of scientific disciplines. EFSA will continue to motivate and evaluate those discussions and the possible impact for its risk assessment work.”