Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury are among the environmental contaminants in foodstuffs which can pose health risks for consumers depending on their concentrations.
Heavy metals can be present in both the environment and foodstuffs without human intervention, for example they occur naturally. But they can also be caused by human intervention in the environment, for example they have an anthropogenic presence. Heavy metals are used in practically all sectors of industry and have a variety of technical applications. They find their way into the environment or into food for consumption as production waste, through the use of the products concerned as well as their disposal as waste. Many impacts on the environment and on food can have either anthropogenic or natural causes and a clear distinction is not possible. This also applies to the content in heavy metals.
For the protection of human health, EU-wide maximum levels for mercury in fish and fisheries products have been in force since 1993, maximum levels for lead and cadmium in various foodstuffs such as cereals, vegetables and fruits, meat and fisheries products since April 2002 and maximum levels for lead, cadmium and mercury in food supplements since July 2009. The EU-wide binding provisions on maximum levels are laid down in Commission Regulation 1881/2006 of 19 December 2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs, including the feeding of infants and small children.
The determination of lead, cadmium and mercury levels in the course of the annual food monitoring revealed that the share of food samples exceeding the maximum levels for the above-mentioned heavy metals was generally low, apart from a few exceptions.