Proposed lower tolerances for Arsenic and Lead in selected foods sold in Canada – Consultation

Health Canada’s Food Directorate is proposing to update certain regulatory tolerances for arsenic and lead in a variety of beverages, including bottled water.

Arsenic and lead are present in the environment at low levels as a result of their natural occurrence and release related to human activity, including industrial activity. The levels of arsenic and lead in foods available in Canada have been stable at very low levels for many years; these trace amounts typically reflect the expected accumulation from the environment.

Health Canada proposes to reduce the tolerance for lead in fruit juice, fruit nectar, and beverages when ready-to-serve, to the level of 0.05 ppm or 0.05 milligram per Liter, 4 times lower than the current level. Health Canada also proposes that the maximum tolerance for lead in bottled water be reduced to 0.01 ppm or 0.01 milligram per Liter.

These levels were deemed to be achievable and are consistent with the tolerances established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission: the International food standard setting body.

For arsenic, the focus is on apple juice and bottled water. Apple juice is the most frequently consumed juice by young children in Canada and was therefore subject to particular focus as a potential significant source of exposure to this vulnerable group of our population. Health Canada proposes that the maximum tolerance for total arsenic be set at 0.01 ppm or 0.01 milligram per Liter for both bottled water and apple juice. Setting levels for total arsenic rather than inorganic arsenic (which is the toxic form for arsenic) allows an increased level of protection and is more easily complied with and enforceable by regulators, given the wide range of available methods to measure total arsenic in food (as opposed to inorganic arsenic, for which methods are more complex and possibly less accessible to industry).

Health Canada’s rationale for these changes as well as the consultation document are available on its Food and Nutrition Webpages.

The proposed lower tolerances are more protective of human health than those that currently exist.  Lowering these tolerances aligns with Health Canada’s general commitment to reduce dietary exposure to contaminants, and lead and arsenic in particular, to levels that are as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA)

The consultation is open and comments can be sent to Health Canada’s Food Directorate, Bureau of Chemical Safety until September 1st, 2014.

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