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National Reference Laboratory for Dioxins and PCBs in Food and Feed

Harmful dioxins and PCBs are ubiquitous in the environment and are mainly ingested by human beings from food (food of animal origin).

The terms "dioxins" refers to two groups of different chlorinated compounds which consist of 75 polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs) and 135 polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs). Dioxins (PCDDs/PCDFs) have similar chemical, physical and toxic properties. They are lipophilic compounds which are ubiquitous in the environment and, therefore, also end up in food. Dioxins accumulate via feed in the fatty tissue of animals (foods) and humans. 17 congeners, which are chlorinated in the 2,3,7,8 position, are both highly toxic and persistent. The congener with the highest toxicity is the 2,3,7,8-PCDD, the so-called Seveso dioxin.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are one group of chlorinated substances which differ in terms of the number and position of chlorine atoms attached to biphenyl. They consist of 209 congeners of which approximately 130 occur in manufactured mixtures. In contrast to dioxins various PCBs are intentionally manufactured for various uses. Like dioxins PCBs are lipophilic. Some are persistent and, therefore, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and animals (food). Some PCBs have similarities with dioxins because of their molecular structure and are, therefore, called dioxin-like PCBs (in contrast to the so-called non-dioxin-like PCBS).

The focus of the work of the National Reference Laboratory for Dioxins and PCBs in Food and Feed at the BfR Chemical-Analytical Centre is analytical support within the framework of official control. The laboratory tests required for this encompass complicated sample preparation and sensitive arrays which are mainly conducted with high resolution gas chromatography in conjunction with high resolution mass spectrometry (HRGC-HRMS).

Main areas of the NRL for Dioxins and PCBs in Food and Feed

The tasks of the National Reference Laboratory for Dioxins and PCBs in food and feed include

  • Co-ordination of the activities of the laboratories commissioned with analytical activities in Germany (mainly within the framework of official food and feed control)
  • Support for the competent food control authorities in shaping the control system
  • Development and validation of analytical methods
  • Exchange of information and co-operation with the EU Community Reference Laboratory (e.g. passing on information to the competent German authorities and the national laboratories commissioned with the above analyses) and
  • Conduct of regular comparative tests between the various laboratories commissioned with the above-mentioned analyses in order to maintain and promote a high standard of control.

Legal provisions governing dioxins and PCBs

The fundamental task of consumer protection is to reduce as far as possible toxic substances like dioxins and PCBs in the environment and, by extension, in food and feed.

In Germany a maximum level regulation for specific PCB compounds in foods was introduced in 1988 to reduce PCB contamination. Since 1 July 2002 dioxins in food and feed have been regulated throughout the EU by maximum levels and this was extended to include dioxin-like PCBs on 4 November 2006. For consumer health protection it is essential to further reduce food-related dioxin and PCB exposure of humans. In this context official food and feed control is of particular importance. This is to be strengthened through the appointment of a corresponding National Reference Laboratory in all EU Member States.


External Links

Community Reference Laboratory for Dioxins and PCBs in Feed and Food



Contact person
Dr. Anja Lüth



Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR)
NRL for Dioxins and PCBs in Food and Feed
Max-Dohrn-Str. 8-10
10589 Berlin

Our Mission Statement

"Science to serve humanity" is the guiding principle of BfR.