60,000 foods to be analysed

Germany in crucial data drive to understand radioactivity risk in food

© iStock/IngaNielsen

The German government is hoping to garner crucial data to help it better understand the risks involved from the consumption of radiation-emitting radioactive elements in foods such as uranium in a major study.

The study forms part of the mammoth seven-year long research undertaken by government body the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfS) into the national diet called the BfR MEAL Study (meals for exposure estimation and analysis of foods).

The wide-ranging research focuses on the substances contained in the foods consumed by Germans, which the German government hopes could prove crucial in assessing and improving the national health.

Staple foods covered in study

In this study focused on radiation, the BfR has teamed up with government advisory body, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), to scrutinise radiation caused by radioactive elements in a range of foods, including cereal products, vegetables, potatoes, dairy products, meat and fish.

"Even though radiation emitting radioactive elements like uranium are only contained in small quantities in food, their chemical properties and radioactivity could pose a risk if they are ingested over a longer period in higher concentrations,” said BfR president professor doctor Andreas Hensel.

“The actual risk is now being assessed within the scope of the cooperation with the BfS. In this way, the BfS and BfR will jointly obtain more data for risk assessment.”

Focus will be on examining foods in Germany for a range of substances including nutrients, heavy metal and food additives, as it looks to determine the mean concentrations of these substances in the average human diet.

The BfS will be given selected samples to examine for various natural radionuclides like uranium, radiom-226, radium-228 and lead-210. Natural radionuclides can occur in different concentrations and combinations in rock and minerals, so can also be contained in foods.

The BfS will analyse various radioactive elements in the food samples and will make dosage estimations for the public on the basis of the test results.

Negligible risks

"Humans cannot perceive or feel radiation with their senses," said Wolfram König, president of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection.

“So people must have valid and reliable data, which we provide. This joint study should help us gain a better understanding of possible or negligible risks and enable us to compare and classify them."

The BfR MEAL Study was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). It is set to run for seven years and will aim to take into account the entire range of food consumed in Germany.

The goal is to gain information for the first time in Germany about the concentrations of various substances contained in the foods eaten by consumers.

It covers the entire food spectrum and analyses food in the state in which it is typically eaten, in bulk samples, representing meals. The BfR will buy about 50,000 to 60,000 different foods and preparing them in a kitchen specially set up for the purpose.

The first results are expected in 2018.

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