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EFSA Publishes Draft Scientific Opinion on PFASs in Food

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On February 24, 2020, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) published a draft scientific opinion on the risks to human health related to the presence of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in food. The draft opinion recommends a tolerable weekly intake (TWI) of 8 ng/kg bw per week for the sum of four PFAS: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). This differs from the recommendations in EFSA’s 2018 opinion on PFOA and PFOS in food, which EFSA reevaluated at the request of the European Commission (EC).

EFSA’s 2018 opinion set forth separate TWIs for PFOA and PFOS using increased cholesterol as the critical human health effect. Since then, new data about the effects of PFASs in animals and humans have become available, and new scientific studies call into question the direct link between exposure to PFAS and increased cholesterol levels.

For the 2020 draft scientific opinion, EFSA’s risk assessment summed exposures to PFOA, PDNA, PFHxS, and PFOS, which comprise approximately half of the lower bound exposure to PFAS for which occurrence data were available. EFSA identified fish, fruit and fruit products, and eggs and egg products as the largest contributors to PFAS exposure.  The draft opinion considered effects on the immune system, not increased cholesterol, to be the most critical human health effect.  The proposed TWI of 8 ng/kg bw per week is considered protective against other possible health effects, such as increased cholesterol.

In the draft opinion, EFSA raises the concern that, based on the lower bound exposure to PFAS and reported serum levels of the compounds, the PFAS exposures for some Europeans exceed the 8 ng/kg bw per week TWI.  The Agency describes a number of recommendations to decrease uncertainty in the current evaluation, including the need for more sensitive and accurate methods for determining individual and total PFAS, as well as the need for more studies on the effects of PFAS on human health, such as longitudinal epidemiological studies on human endpoints. EFSA also suggests the need for studies on the effect of cooking and food processing—especially in relation to transfer to food from food-contact materials that contain PFAS—and on the contribution to PFAS exposure from sources other than food.

EFSA has requested comments on the draft opinion by April 20, 2020. (An announcement on the public consultation on EFSA’s draft scientific opinion on PFASs in food can be found here.) On March 12, 2020, EFSA will be hosting a technical workshop to discuss the draft scientific opinion with stakeholders.