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An integrated model for impact analysis of contaminants during the production of basic food products

Research project CP/27 (Research action CP)

Persons :

Description :


Food safety is one of the major issues these days on the Agenda of the European Commission and the Belgian government. Incidents like the dioxin- and BSE-crisis lead to important economic losses and to concern about the protection of public health through the food chain. At the European level, the White Paper on Food Safety was published, including the organisation of a European Food Authority which sets out priorities for research and regulation. At the national level the Federal Agency of Food Safety was established in Belgium. Quality control and risk evaluation of the food chain starting from the farm to the basic food products is important because of the possible direct link with consumers on one hand and because products from the farm are the basic products of the producing industries.

Project description


The objective of the proposal is to develop an integrated model that calculates the transfer of contaminants through the food chain, i.e. from the input to the farm to basic food products (e.g., crops, grains, dairy products, meat and eggs). The transfer model is coupled to a module calculating the impact of contaminated food products on general public health and evaluating the economical effects.


The transfer model incorporates various mechanisms:

- input and output of contaminants in the soil root zone (i.e. where crops grow and on which cattle grazes);
- indirect (i.e. via the soil) or direct (i.e. through atmospheric deposition) crop uptake of contaminants;
- intake of contaminants by cattle and redistribution to meat, dairy and egg products.

The input of contaminants to the agro-ecosystem includes atmospheric deposition due to industrial emissions, direct application of fertiliser, soil improving products and pesticides. Output from the soil root zone consists of leaching to groundwater, degradation, volatilisation and crop uptake. The transfer to basic food products takes the supply from the agro-ecosystem as well as from external sources such as animal feed products.

The impact analysis compares predicted and measured contaminant concentrations in animal and human diets to existing quality standards. Secondly, the impact analysis calculates human dietary exposure and exposure to other sources, and compares the exposure to an Acceptable Daily Intake or a dose-response curve to assess the effects on public health on one hand and for a monetary valuation on the other. The chemicals concerned are heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants and pesticides. The model will be evaluated for three representative contaminants which are well documented in literature and of which sufficient data exist.

Interaction between the different partners

During the first two years, existing transfer models (i.e. air-soil transfer, soil transfer, soil/air-plant transfer, soil/air-cattle transfer) are reviewed by all partners. The coordinator integrates and programs the transfer models into an integrated model for the calculation of transfers in the agro-ecosystem and for the quantification of health impacts. During the fourth year all partners are involved in demonstrating the model for the typical food contaminants.

Expected results

The result of the research is a quantitative model for the calculation of:

- the transfer of contaminants in an agro-ecosystem;
- the impact of contamination on the quality of primary food products (milk, meat, vegetables, eggs);
- the impact on human health due to contamination of primary food products.

The model will allow to evaluate the effect of changing boundary conditions (e.g. the reduction of emissions, changing agricultural practices, changing food standards) on the qualtity of primary food products.


The partners in the project are the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (Vito), the University of Limburg (LUC) and the University of Ghent (UG).


Vito is the coordinator of the study and performs, along with the administrative follow-up, the following tasks:

- development of the transfer model for the agro-ecosystem for persistent organic pollutants;
- development of the model for impact analysis;
- coupling of the transfer and the impact analysis model;
- demonstration of the integrated model for three typical contaminants.

The tasks of the LUC are:

- compilation of data and models for the transfer to plants;
- support for the demonstration of the integrated model for heavy metals.

The tasks of the UG are:

- the development of the transfer model for pesticides;
- support for the demonstration of the integrated model for pesticides.


Vito (Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek)
Ir. C. Cornelis
Centre of Expertise Integrated Environmental Studies - Group Risk Evaluation and Environmental Damage Costs
Boeretang 200, B-2400 Mol
Tel: +32 (0)14 33 59 24; Fax: +32 (0)14 32 11 85

LUC (Limburgs Universitair Centrum)
Prof. J. Vangronsveld
Research Unit Environmental Biology - Centre for Environmental Sciences
Universitaire Campus, gebouw D, B-3590 Diepenbeek
Tel: +32 (0)11 26 83 31; Fax: +32 (0)11 26 83 01

UG (Universiteit Gent)
Prof. W. Steurbaut
Research Group Crop Protection
Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 60 11; Fax: +32 (0)9 264 62 49

Users Committee

- Romain Cools - Belgapom / VEGEBE - Brussel
- Yvan Dejaegher - Beroepsvereniging van de mengvoederfabrikanten (BEMEFA vzw) - Brussel
- Luc Peeters - Dienst Residu Contrôle - Sint-Katelijne-Waver
- Luc Pussemier - Centre d'Etudes et de Recherche Vétérinaire et Agrochimique (CERVA) - Tervuren
- Diederik Standaert - FOD Volksgezondheid, Veiligheid van de Voedselketen en Leefmilieu - DG Dier, Plant en Voeding - Brussel
- Christine Vinkx - SPF Santé publique, Sécurité de la Chaîne alimentaire et Environnement - Inspection Générale des Denrées Alimentaires - Bruxelles
- J. Willems - Universiteit Gent (UGent) - Vakgroep Maatschappelijke Gezondheidkunde - Gent

Documentation :

Chain model for the impact analysis of contaminants in primary food products : final report  Seuntjens, Piet - Steurbzut, Walter - Vangronsveld, Jaco  Brussels : Belgian Science Policy, 2006 (SP1621)
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