Risk assessment of dioxins and dl-PCBs in food


Report no: 2022: 16

Published: 11.05.2022

Key message:

 The mean exposure of the Norwegian population is above the tolerable weekly intake. 

This is the conclusion of VKM in the risk assessment of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs.

Fish (fatty species), dairy products and meat were the main contributors in all age groups.

Dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs

Dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs are a group of persistent, lipid soluble and highly toxic organic pollutants that accumulate in the food chain. Food is the main source of human exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs, due to a contaminated environment and/or contaminated animal feed.

Dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in food do not cause acute health effects. It is the amount of these substances in the body after accumulation over many years that may cause adverse effects. The total amount of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs is given as picogram toxic equivalents (pg TEQ), which is an expression of the total toxic potential of the sum of PCDD/Fs and DL-PCBs.

A tolerable weekly intake (TWI) of 2 pg TEQ/kg bw per week was established by EFSA in 2018, based on decreased sperm concentration in men after prenatal and childhood exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs.

The risk assessment

VKM has assessed the risk related to dioxin and dioxin-like PCB exposure from the Norwegian diet. VKM has not taken into account any beneficial health effects of foods or nutrients in food in a wider context.

The mean concentrations of dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs in food were combined with data on consumption to estimate the exposure. The TWI was used to characterize the risk related to estimated exposure.


Helle Katrine Knutsen, scientific leader of the work, highlights three findings. «First, VKM has concluded that the exceedance of the TWI for the Norwegian population is approximately the same size as EFSA calculated for the European population. Secondly, the content of the substances is somewhat lower in Norwegian-produced fish, meat, milk, and eggs than in similar foods produced in other countries. Thirdly, food items such as fish liver, brown crab meat, reindeer liver and some kinds of marine oils, contain high levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs and consumption may therefore result in exposure above the tolerable weekly intake», says Knutsen.

The risk assessment was commissioned by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority and approved by VKM's Panel for Contaminants.


liten bilde av Gro Mathisen

Gro Mathisen

Project manager, PhD

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