In its report, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggested the government encourage women and others to stick to the national dietary guidelines to reduce their fat intake and limit their exposure to dioxins, or DLCs, amid concerns that the pollutants are passed on to fetuses and infants through the placenta and breast milk.
"Perhaps the most direct way for an individual or a population to reduce dietary intake of DLCs is to reduce their consumption of dietary fat, especially from animal sources that are known to contain higher levels of these compounds," the scientists wrote.
However, they wouldn't advise what levels are considered dangerous because current tests for checking dioxins in food are too expensive, costing about $1,000 each, said Robert Lawrence, the chair of the panel.
"We refrained from setting any risk tolerance limits or mandatory cutoff points for dioxins in the food supply because it would have been cost prohibitive with current methods," said Lawrence, an associate dean of the Bloomberg School or Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.
Dioxins, or DLCs, are pollutants found throughout the soil, water and air. They can occur naturally — for example, when a forest burns. But they also are produced when industrial materials are incinerated. They build up in fatty tissues in animals, so scientists believe that humans are exposed to them primarily when they eat animal fats. Unborn children and breast-feeding infants are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects, which can range from behavioral disorders to cancer.
The panel noted that some American Indian tribes and indigenous groups in Canada also are at risk because they frequently eat fish and wild game, exposing them to higher levels of dioxins than on average.
The panel also suggested that the Agriculture Department provide schools in the federal lunch program with low-fat and skim milk to help children reduce their exposure to dioxins.
The current law for the national school lunch program, which feeds 28 million children, favors whole milk, although nutritionists have said that drinking it regularly can contribute to heart disease.
The panel also called for the government to:
- Partner with food manufacturers and farmers and make a plan that will curb dioxin levels in food.
- Take steps to reduce the prevalence of dioxins in animal feed and grasses so that they'll be less apparent in animals.
- Create a database to track exposure and do more studies on the effects of dioxins on breast-feeding infants and unborn children.
The National Academies are a government advisory operation established by Congress and consisting of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council.