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Geochemical Lead Contamination of Cattle, Sheep, Free Range and Organic Chickens on UK Farms (Ongoing)

University of Bristol
Start date
End date

This study will investigate levels of geochemical lead contamination in samples of meat and offal from cattle, sheep, free range and organic chickens entering the food chain that, prior to slaughter, have grazed on UK farms in areas of high geochemical lead contamination. Eggs from free range and organic chickens will also be included in the study.

A total of 384 samples of meat, offal and eggs, and 95 samples of soil will be analysed using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry to determine lead levels. To ensure that breeding and climatic seasonality is taken into account, samples will be taken from January 2012 through to April 2013.

The results of the research will be used to establish if there is a correlation between blood lead levels and the levels of lead found in meat, offal and eggs. The outcome of the investigation will inform the risk assessment and determine the appropriate level of risk management advice the Agency needs to provide for geochemical lead poisoning when responding to lead incidents occurring on farms.

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Background: Animals grazed on UK farms in areas of high geochemical lead could take up lead present in the soil and on entering the food chain could contribute to consumers dietary lead intake. Lead has no known beneficial health effects and may be harmful if excessive amounts are consumed.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has previously concluded that dietary exposure to lead should be reduced, and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) agree that it is not possible to set a tolerable intake level for dietary exposure to lead since it is not possible to identify a threshold for some of its adverse effects. Minimisation of exposure to lead from all sources is therefore desirable.

Funding Source
Food Standards Agency
Project source
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Project number
Chemical Contaminants
Heavy Metals
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication
Natural Toxins
Viruses and Prions
Bacterial Pathogens
Meat, Poultry, Game