17-Jul-2015 - Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR)

Better assessment of the health risks associated with mixtures of substances in food

EU research project EuroMix launched

Foods can contain a variety of potentially harmful substances. These include environmental contaminants, pesticide residue as well as naturally occurring active ingredients. Assessing the health risks of mixtures of substances is difficult, since typically toxicological data is available only for individual substances but not for the numerous mixtures. The EuroMix project (European Test and Risk Assessment Strategies for Mixtures) will close knowledge gaps in this area over the next few years. On the basis of both existing and yet to be developed testing systems and guidelines, scientists from 15 countries of the European Union (EU) will develop a strategy for investigating and assessing the toxicity of substance mixtures in food. "The project has great relevance for consumer protection, since up till now health assessments have not been able to adequately consider the toxicity of mixtures of different substances", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). According to Professor Hensel, the EU is now aware of this shortcoming and has therefore identified the risk assessment of substance mixtures as one of the challenges of the future. In its capacity as the institution responsible for assessing the health risks associated with substances within Germany, the BfR is participating in the EuroMix project with two specialist departments.

A total of 26 scientific institutions make up the EuroMix pool. It is part of the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. The EU sponsors EuroMix with a total of Euro 8 million. The Dutch Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) is coordinating the project.

EuroMix aims to develop an animal experiment-free test strategy in order to better identify the toxicity of mixtures of different toxicologically relevant food ingredients, food contaminants and pesticide residues. Since consumers are exposed to a large number of such substances on a daily basis and a multitude of different substance mixtures is conceivable, EuroMix will focus on a small number of especially relevant key mixtures to be identified at the beginning of the project. Particular attention will be given to the mixtures of active ingredients and co-formulants in pesticides. From the experiments and their results, concrete instructions for the future implementation of such an experimental test strategy will be formulated.

Additionally, using a large number of already available in-vitro testing methods (bioassays), the testing methods most suited to the investigation of substance mixtures will be identified and validated against conventional animal experiment-based studies. New computer-assisted models for calculating the risks of substance mixtures are to be developed which will also take into account various exposure scenarios. The selected mixtures of substances are experimentally tested with a so-called “bioassay toolbox” yet to be developed, and they will be calculated in parallel with the computer models. This is done by combining testing methods covering different toxicological endpoints such as developmental disorders, hepatic toxicity, immunotoxicity and other unwanted effects of substances. The results will form an important foundation for the intended future risk assessment of substance mixtures. Moreover, the findings, the methods of the “bioassay toolbox&rdquo ;, and the new computer models will be made publicly available for the benefit of potential stakeholders via an Internet platform. EuroMix will support future operators in their use of these new tools. On the basis of a study of the existing laws and the technical guidelines on substance assessment, recommendations for improved legislation are to be made with the aim of harmonising them not only within Europe but also with third-party states. These efforts will be supported by a conference which the BfR will organise half way through the project with the aim of providing a current analytical overview.

It is hoped that EuroMix will lead to innovation in the area of testing substance mixtures both in the public and private sector. The project aims to provide a sound scientific basis for experimental identification of toxic effects of substance mixtures while at the same time bringing about a reduction in the number of animal experiments in toxicity tests. Ultimately, EuroMix strives to feed the current discussion on the harmonisation of risk assessment of mixtures of substances within the EU within the framework of the Codex Alimentarius and with the participation of the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA).

Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR)

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