It is important and right that countries in the European Union take steps to monitor the food supply and identify problems such as the dioxin-contaminated poultry products, Toepfer said. But the great majority of the world's population is not in that position, and it is equally important that all countries be able to take the needed protective measures.
A report due late next week from UNEP, provides a snapshot of available information on dioxins and furans, the unintended toxic by-products of many industrial and combustion processes. It presents data from 15 national and regional inventories of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/PCDF), mostly in Western Europe and North America.
Developing countries typically lack the capacity to identify and respond to sources of releases of dioxins and furans to the air, water, and soil, Toepfer observed. However, dioxins travel long distances far from the source. They accumulate in living species, becoming increasingly concentrated in fatty tissue as they move up the food chain. They are ultimately passed on through breastmilk to the next generation of living beings. This must stop.
Responding to the need for global action, UNEP is bringing governments together to negotiate a legally binding international agreement to reduce and/or eliminate releases and discharges to the environment of 12 persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, including dioxins.
I am confident, Toepfer said,that countries will reach agreement on a POPs treaty by the year 2000, the deadline in the mandate set by the UNEP Governing Council. It is an essential line of defence against POPs for future generations. The next round of talks is set for 6-11 September 1999 in Geneva, Switzerland.
In advance of the treaty, UNEP is working to help developing countries and countries with economies in transition to build the capacity to identify sources of dioxins and reduce or, where possible, eliminate their releases to the environment.
Agencies like EU and the World Health Organization have a vital role to play in protecting public health and the environment from dioxins in food, Toepfer said.UNEP has a vital role to play in helping reduce dioxin releases into the environment and so to ensure that these safeguards never have to be triggered.
Note to journalists: Official documents and other information on the POPs negotiations are available on the Internet at www.chem.unep.ch/pops/.
For more information, contact
James B. Willis,
Director, UNEP Chemicals,
at tel: (+41 22) 917 81 83; fax: (+41 22) 797 34 60;
e-mail: chemicals @unep.ch/
Linda Durkee, Policy and Communications Advisor,
at tel: (+41 22) 917 85 11; fax: (+41 22) 797 34 60;
UNEP News Release 1999/65