Date: Nov. 4 1997 04:28:01

Dioxin in Beef

From: McLibel Support Campaign (
      Jon Campbell (
      Mike Ewall (

  Letter from Jon
  Comments by Mike
  Mike's site
  John's site


I met Dave at the CCHW convention in Arlington, VA several weeks ago. You might recall that I promised I'd send some info about dioxin in beef. Sorry for the delay.

Basic information about dioxin, and recommendations regarding dioxin in diet can be found at: (see below)

More detailed information can be found in the book Dying From Dioxin by Lois Gibbs. The long and the short of it is:

1. The EPA, in 1994, re-assessed the toxicity of dioxin, and confirmed the finding that it was the most toxic organic chemical known, with measurable health effects in our bodies at levels of as little as 10-15 ppt, cumulative over a lifetime. Based on this, the EPA set the "acceptable" dose of dioxin to be .006 picograms (six million millionths of a gram) per kilogram of body weight, or about 0.40 picograms for an adult (proportional to body weight - much less for a child).

2. Beef is about the most dioxin-contaminated food, at about 1part per million million (or 1 picogram per gram of food). That means that a single McDonald's hamburger in the U.S. has about 100 picograms of dioxin (assuming a 100-gram patty). (I don't know whether food testing for dioxin has been done by the British govt; I assume it has...). That is 250 TIMES the EPA "acceptable daily dose" for an adult (and double that for a child).

If people knew that by eating at McDonalds that threatening their health and the health of their children, rather dramatically, they might be less inclined to eat there...

You might, if you have a chance, check out the rest of my website ( and let me know what you think...

Jon Campbell

From: Mike Ewall (
To: D Briars


I trust that Jon Campbell knows his stuff on this. He's working on a book, actually. It's about personal ways to reduce your exposure to dioxin and similar problems. Yes, 90% of the dioxin you're exposed to is through meat and dairy products. Sadly, while the main anti-toxics groups will admit this, they all but refuse to recommend a vegan diet. Beef is the most dioxin-contaminated food according to EPA. There is a wonderful chart from their 94 report that I scanned and put on my dioxin website at (see below)


From Mike's page

What is dioxin?

Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals known. A report released for public comment in September 1994 by the US Environmental Protection Agency clearly describes dioxin as a serious public health threat. The public health impact of dioxin may rival the impact that DDT had on public health in the 1960's. According to the EPA report, not only does there appear to be no "safe" level of exposure to dioxin, but levels of dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals have been found in the general US population that are "at or near levels associated with adverse health effects." The EPA report confirmed that dioxin is a cancer hazard to people; that exposure to dioxin can also cause severe reproductive and developmental problems (at levels 100 times lower than those associated with its cancer causing effects); and that dioxin can cause immune system damage and interfere with regulatory hormones.

Dioxin is a general term that describes a group of hundreds of chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment. The most toxic compound is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or TCDD. The toxicity of other dioxins and chemicals like PCBs that act like dioxin are measured in relation to TCDD. Dioxin is formed as an unintentional by-product of many industrial processes involving chlorine such as waste incineration, chemical and pesticide manufacturing and pulp and paper bleaching. Dioxin was the primary toxic component of Agent Orange, was found at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, NY and was the basis for evacuations at Times Beach, MO and Seveso Italy.

Where does dioxin come from?

Dioxin is formed by burning chlorine-based chemical compounds with hydrocarbons. The major source of dioxin in the environment (95%) comes from incinerators burning chlorinated wastes. Dioxin pollution is also affiliated with paper mills which use chlorine bleaching in their process and with the production of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastics.

What health effects are related to exposure
to dioxin and dioxin-like compounds?

Sperm count in men worldwide has dropped to 50% of what it was 50 years ago.
The incidence of testicular cancer has tripled in the last 50 years, and prostate cancer has doubled.
Endometriosis - the painful growth outside the uterus of cells that normally line the uterus - -which was formerly a rare condition, now afflicts 5 million American women.
In 1960, a woman's chance of developing breast cancer during her lifetime was one in 20. Today the chances are one in eight.

How are we exposed to dioxin?

The major sources of dioxin are in our diet. Since dioxin is fat-soluble, it bioaccumulates up the food chain and it is mainly (97.5%) found in meat and dairy products (beef, dairy products, milk, chicken, pork, fish and eggs in that order... see chart below). In fish alone, these toxins bioaccumulate up the food chain so that dioxin levels in fish are 100,000 times that of the surrounding environment.

In EPA's dioxin report, they refer to dioxin as hydrophobic. This means that dioxin, when it settles on water bodies, will avoid the water and find a fish to go in to. The same goes for other wildlife. Dioxin will find animals to go in to, working its way to the top of the food chain.

Men have no ways to get rid of dioxin other than letting it break down according to its chemical half-lives. Women, on the other hand, have two ways which it can exit their bodies:

It crosses the placenta... into the growing infant;

It is present in the fatty breast milk, which is also a route of exposure which doses the infant, making breast-feeding for non-vegetarian mothers quite hazardous.

This is where you get dioxin from
Total exposure/injestion = 119 pg/day

         Beef        38.0
         Dairy       24.1
         Milk        17.6
         Chicken     12.9
         Pork        12.2
         Fish         7.8        
         Eggs         4.1
         Inhalation   2.2
         Soil          .8
         Water       Negligible

Chart from EPA Dioxin Reassessment Summary 4/94 - Vol. 1, p. 37
(Figure II-5. Background TEQ exposures for North America by pathway)

EPA's reports on dioxin.

Much of this new research into the health effects of dioxin was undertaken in response to industry challenges to EPA's findings on the toxicity of dioxin in 1991. Now, 3 years later, dioxin was found to be more dangerous than ever. Copies of the EPA Health Assessment report may be obtained by contacting:

    CERI/ORD Publications Center 
    26 W. Martin Luther King Drive 
    Cincinnati, OH 45268 
    (513) 569-7562; fax (513) 569-7566. 

EPA's Scientific Advisory Board has completed its reassessment of dioxin. To get copies of the dioxin report, contact Sam Rondberg at the EPA at (202) 260-2559.

The final final report issued by the Health and Exposures Panels of the Science Advisory Board regarding the dioxin reassessment is now available. Get your copy by calling the SAB at: 202-260-8414, or fax: 202-260-1889.

Environmental Research Foundation's

RACHEL's Environment & Health Weekly Issues

(many links follow)

Jon's site (

What Is Dioxin?

Dioxin is the name generally given to a class of super-toxic chemicals, the chlorinated dioxins and furans, formed as a by-product of the manufacture, molding, or burning of organic chemicals and plastics that contain chlorine. It is the nastiest, most toxic man-made organic chemical; its toxicity is second only to radioactive waste. Dioxin made headlines several years ago at places such as Love Canal, where hundreds of families needed to abandon their homes due to dioxin contamination, and Times Beach, Missouri, a town that was abandoned as a result of dioxin.

Dioxin - An Unprecedented Threat

We now know that dioxin exhibits serious health effects when it reaches as little as a few parts per trillion in your body fat. Dioxin is a powerful hormone disrupting chemical. By binding to a cell's hormone receptor, it literally modifies the functioning and genetic mechanism of the cell, causing a wide range of effects, from cancer to reduced immunity to nervous system disorders to miscarriages and birth deformity. Because it literally changes the functioning of your cells, the effects can be very obvious or very subtle. Because it changes gene functions, it can cause so-called genetic diseases to appear, and can interfere with child development. There is no "threshold" dose - the tiniest amount can cause damage, and our bodies have no defense against it.

Unfortunately, according to the EPA, much of the population of the U.S. is at the dose at which there can be serious health effects. How did this happen? For about 40 years we have seen a dramatic increase in the manufacture and use of chlorinated organic chemicals and plastics. For chemicals, it was insecticides and herbicides (weed killers). For plastics, it was primarily polyvinyl chloride (PVC). From phonograph records to automobile seat covers to wire insulation to shampoo bottles to handbags to house siding to plumbing pipes to wallpaper, we are literally surrounded by PVC. When these chemicals and plastics are manufactured or burned, dioxin is produced as an unwanted (but inevitable) by-product. Dioxin had been a little-known threat for many years near factories that produce PVC plastic or chlorinated pesticides and herbicides, and where those pesticides and herbicides have been heavily used, such as on farms, near electric and railway lines, apple orchards, paper company forests. It became better known when Vietnam War veterans and Vietnamese civilians, exposed to dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange, became ill. It has been a hazard downstream of paper mills (where chlorine bleach combines with natural organics in wood pulp and produces dioxin).

Several towns and cities have become contaminated as a result of chemical spills or manufacturing emissions, some that needed to be evacuated. Love Canal (Niagara Falls, N.Y), Seveso (Italy), Times Beach (Missouri), Pensacola (Florida), and the entire city of Midland, Michigan have high concentrations of dioxin. Bizarre health effects, such as cancer, spina bifida (split spine) and other birth defects, autism, liver disease, endometriosis, reduced immunity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other nerve and blood disorders have been noted.

But in the last 20 years we have begun to burn household and industrial trash and medical waste in mass-burn incinerators. The result - given that we have disposable vinyl plastic all around us - has been a dramatic increase in dioxin contamination everywhere in the U.S. Dioxin, formed during burning, is carried for hundreds of miles on tiny specks of fly-ash from the incinerators. It settles on crops, which then get eaten by cows, steers, pigs, and chickens. It contaminates lakes, streams, and the ocean. Like the pesticides such as DDT, dioxin accumulates in the fat cells of the animals, and re-appears in meat and milk. Dioxin is virtually indestructible in most environments, and is excreted by the body extremely slowly.

How To Avoid Dioxin

Do not eat beef or pork, which have some of the largest concentrations of dioxin of all food sources. Limit your intake of ocean fish; do not eat any freshwater fish. Chicken has the lowest dioxin content of all meats, but is still significant. Vegetarian meat substitutes such as tofu, beans, and rice have essentially no contamination.

If your family drinks milk, drink only skim milk, since dioxin is carried in the butterfat. Avoid all full-fat dairy products, such as butter, cheese and ice cream. Use non-fat skim-milk products or non-dairy substitutes. Do not breast-feed infants, as human milk contains more dioxin than any other food (in relation to an infants body weight), unless you have eaten a non-dairy, low-fat vegetarian diet for several years.

Avoid all organic chemicals that have "chloro" as part of their names (such as the wood preservative pentachlorophenol, which is probably the most dioxin-contaminated household chemical). Avoid chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) and products containing it. (Use oxygen bleach instead). Use unbleached paper products.

Do not use weed killers or insecticides that contain chlorine. Especially avoid the chlorophenol weed killers, such as 2,4-D, found in most fertilizer/weed killers and used by commercial lawn services. Avoid "Permethrin" flea sprays for pets.

Avoid household or personal products and toys made of or packaged in polyvinyl chloride - PVC - labeled V or #3 plastic. (For example, Beanie Babies are filled with PVC beads, which often produce cancer-causing vinyl chloride fumes and are often contaminated with dioxin.) Avoid using Saran Wrap and similar "cling-type" plastic wraps (unless they are clearly identified as non-chlorinated plastic.).

Wash all fruits and vegetables carefully to remove chlorophenol pesticide residue. Avoid grapes and raisins unless they are clearly labeled as organic (grown without pesticides).

Avoid all products which have cottonseed oil as an ingredient (such as potato chips), since cotton is often sprayed with chlorophenol insecticides. Do not use soaps containing tallow (most soaps), as it is made from animal fat. Avoid "deodorant" soaps and deodorants containing "triclosan," a chlorophenol.

What You Can Do

The way to reduce the dioxin threat is to stop burning trash and to stop producing PVC and other chlorinated chemicals. If your town sends its trash to an incinerator, tell your town officials to institute comprehensive recycling. Write to companies that use vinyl and ask them to use the known safe substitutes. Ask your supermarket and office supply stores to sell Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) products. Learn more about the dioxin threat. Read the books Dying From Dioxin by Lois Gibbs, and Our Stolen Future by Theo Colborn. Talk to your friends and neighbors about dioxin and what you can do to reduce the threat. Join a community environmental organization, or form one if there are none in your town. Call a state or national organization to get help. Download a copy of a Microsoft Word Version 6-compatible version of this document for a community information leaflet.

U.S. McLibel Support Campaign               Email
PO Box 62                                        Phone/Fax 802-586-9628
Craftsbury VT 05826-0062         

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