Monitoring dioxins, dioxin-like PCBs, indicator PCBs and flame retardants in primary agricultural products

There is a need for information on current levels of dioxins, PCBs and flame retardants in Dutch primary agricultural products of animal origin.


As of 1 January 2012, EU member states have had to conduct random monitoring of the occurrence of dioxins, dioxin-like and non-dioxin-like PCBs in animal feed and foodstuffs and in proportion to their production, use and consumption (Recommendation 2011/516/EU).

Knowledge of the current background values and experience with analyses are also important for assessing concentrations found after incidents. In addition, RIKILT needs to maintain its expertise in this field. This is partly due to being assigned NRL tasks for dioxins and PCBs.

The goal of this project is to set up a monitoring programme to obtain information about the average background concentrations in the Netherlands of dioxins, PCBs and, since 2009, a number of bromine-based flame retardants. New EFSA risk assessments related to bromine-based flame retardants (PBDEs) suggest that the safety margin for current levels of exposure to some retardants is fairly small. In line with new EU recommendations, the specific monitoring of these substances in the food chain is required.


Activities in 2014 will be:

  1. Regular monitoring: With regard to dioxins and PCBs, samples will come from the Dutch National Residue Plan, but will be taken in proportion to production volumes and not be risk-based. Dutch agricultural products such as eggs and dairy produce (farm milk) and beef, pig, sheep and poultry samples will be monitored for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs.
  2. Indicator: The monitoring programme will serve as an indicator for initiating a supplementary measurement system in consultation with the Dutch government ministries concerned and the NVWA if excessive concentrations are detected. In situations in which the monitoring programme indicates that the action limits given in current or proposed standards have been exceeded, the indicator function will trigger specific supplementary analyses.
  3. Analysis of trends: In 2014, mixed samples will be prepared to obtain an impression of the average background concentrations and to compare trends and developments over previous years.
  4. As part of this project, the relationship between the presence of dioxins and PCBs in soil, grass and mutton and the distribution of contaminants over different animal organs will be studied.

Project results

This monitoring project will provide insight into the concentrations of persistent contaminants such as dioxins, PCBs and bromine-based flame retardants in Dutch animal products in particular. Most samples will be analysed using a bioassay; suspect samples, for example from known risk areas, will be analysed with GC/HRMS. The samples will mainly come from the National Residue Plan. Any concentrations that exceed the set limits will be immediately reported to the NVWA and tracked to locate the source. GC/HRMS data related to non-suspect samples will be sent to the EFSA via the RIVM and used as input for predicting and analysing trends.