Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dioxin in eggs: Follow up

So many people have asked me so many questions about the practicalities surrounding the dioxin in eggs announcement. To be honest, I have many questions myself, so the time has come to find some answers.

What are dioxins?
image source: Wikipedia

They are in a class of environmental pollutants, that are commonly referred to as "the Dirty Dozen". The World Health Organization has a very thorough factsheet about dioxins.

To sum it up:

While dioxins can contaminate our environment through natural means like fires and volcanos,  most of our dioxin-pollution is from industrial waste that is not properly treated.

90% of our exposure to dioxins is from our food supply. It builds up in fatty tissues of animals, and when we consume those fatty tissues, we are exposed to dioxins (and other persistant pollutants as well). So most of our exposure comes from eating fatty animal-based foods.

The WHO says that all people have "background exposure" to dioxins. They are concerned that we need to find ways to reduce our background exposure, because it is highly toxic.

So when Misrad Habriut announced that they found dioxin in eggs, it means that they found dioxin in a too-high concentration in the eggs, as most eggs contain some amount of dioxins (sadly, in my opinion).

According to Misrad Habriut, dioxins cause the most damage when there is long term exposure to higher than "acceptable" levels. 

According to Mako (channel 2 news), who broke the story, Misrad Habriut is saying that (even though they won't release the names of the farms) the four egg farms that were found to have high dioxin levels are ALL very small and are scattered throughout the country, and they stopped distribution from those farms immediately upon learning the results of the lab tests (and destroyed any remaining inventory).

They maintain it is unlikely any one person had a consistent exposure to these particular eggs, daily, over the long term.

So as far as the nitty-gritty of what we all need to know: Misrad Habriut says you can buy new eggs, as they have removed the tainted ones from the market. 

As far as the ones in your fridge. My personal feeling is that it is a gamble. Let's say 3% of the eggs on the market were problematic. Are the eggs in your fridge (or mine) likely to be part of that 3%? No. But how would you know? I am going to have to leave that up to each person to make their own decision.

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  1. "Let's say 3% of the eggs on the market were problematic."

    Where is this number from? Tnuva alone is over 600 farms and they are only 70% of the market.

    A better risk calculation might be:
    Assuming that only 2/3 of Tnuva's farms sell egg we can divide
    4 tainted farms/400 possible farms = 1%
    But remember, Tnuva is only 70% of the egg market. So:
    1% * 0.7 = 0.7% of the eggs in the market from the 4 tainted farms. Not 3%

    I appreciate your efforts to raise awareness of this unfortunate health hazard but please be responsible in your reporting and try to avoid panicking people.

  2. Thank you for figuring that out YS! I did not claim to have any hard data about the percentage. That's why I said "let's say"... But if you know those #s for a fact, then that's great.

    I am not trying to get people in a panic. I was actually trying to reassure people that they can make their own decisions.

  3. YS is missing the point. According to the original report, samples from 10 farms were sent for testing, and 4 of them were in violation of the standard. If that's representative of egg farms in general (which it may not be - they may have had a special reason for testing those 10 farms), it might indicate that some 40% of the market is tainted.

    Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that's the case. But the data released by the Agriculture Ministry simply doesn't provide enough information for the public to know 1. how much of the egg supply is indeed in violation of the standards, and 2. whether the steps taken since the testing have been adequate to restore the safety of the product.

    All that said, keep in mind that the violations were still of a modest magnitude (70% over the standard; standards for possible food poisons are generally set *well* below the actual level at which hazard is detectable), and that most people only consume so many eggs in the first place.


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