Dioxin directive

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There are two pieces of Dioxin directives in the European Union legislation. The one setting maximum concentrations for dioxin and PCB in animal feed (2006/13/EC) and the other one setting corresponding concentrations for foodstuffs (2006/1881/EC). These pollutants are known to cause developmental defects in laboratory animals, and tooth development defects have also been observed in children after high exposures during fetal period or from mother's milk.

Finnish and Swedish derogation

Finland and Sweden have a derogation in the directive for years 2006-2011. Several fish species can be caught from the Baltic Sea area and sold (but not exported) even if their dioxin and PCB concentrations are higher than what is allowed in the directive. Wild Baltic salmon (Salmo salar) and Baltic herring (Clupea harengus membras) are the two fish species of interest. There are also three other species listed in the derogation, but their consumption, export and commercial value is very small.

The main argument for the derogation was that Baltic salmon and herring are fatty fish containing a lot of omega-3 fatty acids. They are known to reduce cardiovascular mortality and morbidity [1] , which have large impacts on public health in Finland. Moreover, omega-3 fatty acids have beneficial effects on other organs, such as the developing brain of the fetus and young child.

Another relevant nutrient in fish is vitamin D, for which fish is an important source in Finland. Recently, THL reminded that Finns still get too little vitamin D in their diet and adjusted recommendations upward.

The health benefits of fatty fish have been shown to clearly outweigh the potential risks of even relatively high levels of pollutants in fish [2] , such as those found in the Baltic Sea. [3] In addition, Baltic salmon and herring are fish species that in Finland are only marginally used by the main risk group, namely girls and pregnant women, while they are still an important source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D for older sub-populations. Farmed fish species such as rainbow trout (which typically have lower dioxin concentrations) are increasing their relative share of the fish plate in Finland; this has also reduced the exposure to these pollutants.

The dioxin and PCB concentrations and consequent exposures in the environment have been clearly decreasing since the 1970's [4] , and there still seems to be a slight downward trend.

In summary, exposures to dioxins from Baltic fish have clearly decreased during the last three decades, and their health impact is currently negligible in Finland. However, Baltic fish still is an important source of healthy nutrients especially for older sub-populations who consume it in fair amounts.

See also


  1. Mozaffarian D., Rimm E.B., Fish intake, contaminants, and human health. Evaluating the risks and the benefits. (Reprinted) JAMA, 2006. Vol 296, No. 15
  2. Tuomisto JT, Tuomisto J, Tainio M, Niittynen M, Verkasalo P, Vartiainen T, Kiviranta H, Pekkanen J. Risk-benefit analysis of eating farmed salmon. Science. 2004 Jul 23;305(5683):476-7 Read the article
  3. Anu W Turunen, Pia K Verkasalo, Hannu Kiviranta, Eero Pukkala, Antti Jula, Satu Männistö, Riina Räsänen, Jukka Marniemi and Terttu Vartiainen. Mortality in a cohort with high fish consumption. International Journal of Epidemiology 2008;37:1008–1017.
  4. e.g. Kiviranta H, Purkunen R, Vartiainen T: Levels and trends of PCDD/Fs and PCBs in human milk in Finland. CHEMOSPHERE 1999;38: 2: 311-323

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