Food Directorate updated approach for managing dietary exposure to lead

The Food Directorate concurs with the Health Canada recommendation outlined in Lead - State of the Science Report and Risk Management Strategy that additional measures to reduce exposure of Canadians to lead from all sources are warranted.

In order to address this concern, Health Canada's Food Directorate is working to reduce dietary exposure to lead to levels that are as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA principle). Furthermore, the Food Directorate has and will continue to actively assess dietary intake of lead, conduct risk assessments, identify and control point sources of lead contamination of foods, and make risk management recommendations regarding lead. Some key activities relating to these actions are outlined below.

Assessing the dietary intake of lead:

  • Annual surveillance of background concentrations of lead in prepared foods included in the Canadian Total Diet Study and calculation of the dietary intakes of lead by Canadians of different ages and sexes. This enables monitoring of dietary exposure trends over time.
  • Annual monitoring of lead levels in specific foods, such as baby foods and infant formulae, and foods suspected of being contaminated.

Conducting health risk assessments:

Improving the health risk characterization of lead by taking into account sub-clinical adverse health effects in infants and children and dietary contributions to blood lead levels.

Identifying dietary point sources of lead contamination:

  • Establishing whether a specific food's lead level is comparable to that in similar foods sold in Canada and/or to that achieved when good production and manufacturing practices are followed.
  • Assessing the contribution that consumption of a specific food makes to total dietary exposure to lead.
  • Maintaining research and surveillance capabilities to measure background concentrations of lead in food and trace and confirm individual contamination sources.

Developing risk management strategies:

  • Updating the maximum levels for lead listed in Part 2 of the List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods
  • Updating and/or developing guidelines and "action levels" for lead in selected foods, when necessary. An action level represents the concentration of lead in a certain food that triggers follow-up investigation because the amount of lead present in that food is higher than what would typically be expected. Unlike a guideline or tolerance, an action level is not a health-based value.
  • Participating in the Codex Alimentarius Commission working group that reviews existing and establishes new Codex maximum levels (MLs) for lead in foods based on the results of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) June 2010 toxicological review of lead.

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