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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



Food safety is an issue of global significance. In spite of advancements in food technologies, however, there are still gaps in our understanding of toxicological mechanisms and the potential effects of certain contaminants. Non-dioxin-like (NDL) poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are prevalent contaminants in a number of animal-derived food products. They have been receiving increasing attention internationally, given the lack of a comprehensive health risk assessment relating to their presence in the food chain.

NDL-PCB toxicity has been linked to immune deficiencies, cancer, neurobehavioural disorders, endocrine disturbances and other pathologies. There is, therefore, a pressing need to fully understand the health hazard to humans and animals and thus set the foundations for a complete review of epidemiological data in the future. The ATHON project aims to shed light on toxicity by meeting a number of key objectives relating to NDL-PCB metabolism, classification profiles and the development of suitable in vitro and in vivo models for their study.


The consortium that has come together to achieve the ATHON objectives is able to draw upon its multidisciplinary and international character in order to underline the global dimension of this problem. Non- EU partners and members of the advisory board are cooperating on a worldwide scale in order to further the efforts of international bodies and governments in the field of NDL-PCB toxicity.

The European Commission and the World Health Organisation have in the past organised a series of conferences addressing the issue of health hazards. However, most derived datasets to date fail to clearly illustrate the effects on human health. Partners and advisory board members from the EU, Canada, the US and Japan are now set to address a series of scientific, technological and management issues relating to NDLPCBs and food quality.


NDL-PCBs are similar to a number of other contaminants and can have a varied and long lasting effect on human health. So far, these effects have been poorly understood and it is the aim of the project to address and understand them. NDL-PCBs have been implicated in a number of diseases including ailments of the reproductive and developmental systems and special attention is now being paid to prenatal and postnatal PCB exposure, given foetal sensitivity to food contaminants. In order to understand the toxicological mechanisms behind these diseases, a number of specific objectives have been defined and outlined.

ATHON partners are utilising cell systems and animal models that enable them to study NDL-PCB in an experimentally controlled and reproducible manner. This is to be followed by the extensive examination of toxicity profiles and the derivation of toxicokinetic data, which will lead to the compilation of a specific document relating to the risk assessment methodologies for NDL-PCBs and PCB metabolites. The document will also include a novel classification system for NLDPCB congeners based on appropriate biomarker information.

Overall, the ATHON project is advancing the current state of scientific knowledge in the field of NDL-PCB toxicology by providing innovative testing and research methods and a reliable classification system.

List of Partners

  • Karolinska Institutet, Institute of Environmental Medicine (Sweden)
  • Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek (Belgium)
  • Veterinary Research Institute, Department of Chemistry & Toxicology (Czech Republic)
  • Foundation for Biomedical Investigations of Valencia, Laboratory of Neurobiology (Spain)
  • National Public Health Institute, Department of Environmental Health (Finland)
  • Research Institute for Occupational Medicine of the German Social Accident Insurance, BGFA (Germany)
  • Technical University of Kaiserslautern, Food Chemistry and Toxicology/ Faculty of Chemistry (Germany)
  • Institute of Pharmacological Research "Mario Negri", Department of Environmental Health Sciences (Italy)
  • Utrecht University, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (The Netherlands)
  • Free University of Amsterdam, Institute for Environmental Studies (The Netherlands)
  • University of Oslo, Department of Biochemistry (Norway)
  • Umeå University, Environmental Chemistry (Sweden)
  • United Bristol Healthcare NHS Trust (UK)
  • Health Canada (Canada)
Full title:
Assessing the toxicity and hazard of non-dioxin-like PCBs present in food
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Helen Håkansson, Karolinska Institutet,
EC Scientific Officer:
Ebba Barany,
EU contribution:
€ 4.6M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top