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The BfR President responds to questions from consumers on hormonally active substances

29/2013, 04.11.2013

Fourth edition of the online dialogue forum launched

The fourth edition of the online dialogue forum of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment  (BfR) was launched under the title "Hormonally Active Substances - How Dangerous Are They?". Until 15 November 2013, consumers may ask questions on this topic via the BfR website. In the subsequent voting phase, consumers will decide by vote which questions they would like to get answered. The three questions which receive the highest ranks will be answered by the President of the BfR, Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel in the form of a video message. "Being in dialogue with consumers is important to us, especially when it comes to controversial issues", Hensel emphaszises. The dialogue forum has been an integral part of the BfR website since 2011.

There is currently an intense debate on substances which may affect the endocrine system of an organism and which thus may cause also damage to human health. The discussions are being focused but are not limited to certain softening agents used in plastics, flame retardants in furniture or clothes, active ingredients in pesticides and some preservatives used in cosmetic products. As the examples DDT, PCB and lindane show, such compounds present in industrial waste from the past can remain in the environment long after being banned from the market. In addition, their concentrations might also increase in the food chain before they are finally ingested by humans.

Not only synthetic chemicals may affect the endocrine system. Hormonally active substances are also present in foods as natural ingredients. Examples include certain secondary plant constituents such as isoflavones and lignanes which are present in products made of soy and linseed, respectively. Also beer, milk and meat naturally contain hormonally active substances. However, compared to the isolated compounds added to certain food supplements, the intake levels and effects of isoflavones from these foods are coinsidered being rather small.

Hormonally active substances do not always have a negative influence on the endocrine system. At low levels certain compound-mediated effects on the endocrine system are usually welcomed or accepted. From a health safety perspective, the term “hormonally active substance” should be used as a generic term only. By contrast, an “endocrine disruptor” would then be a substance which, as a result of its effects on the endocrine system, causes real harm to the organism or its descendants.

The questions asked by consumers may, for example, address the issues of detectability of hormonally active substances in foods and consumer products, risks for specific subgroups in the human population, or meaningful strategies to avoid health risks.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal States in Germany on questions related to food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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