• Open Access

Scientific Opinion on Lead in Food


  • EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM)

  • Panel members: Jan Alexander, Diane Benford, Alan Boobis, Sandra Ceccatelli, Jean-Pierre Cravedi, Alessandro Di Domenico, Daniel Doerge, Eugenia Dogliotti, Lutz Edler, Peter Farmer, Metka Filipič, Johanna Fink-Gremmels, Peter Fürst, Thierry Guerin, Helle Katrine Knutsen, Miroslav Machala, Antonio Mutti, Josef Schlatter and Rolaf van Leeuwen.
  • Correspondence: contam@efsa.europa.eu
  • Acknowledgement: The Panel wishes to thank Brian Stollery and the members of the Working Group on Lead for the preparation of this opinion: Alan R Boobis, Andrew Cockburn, Alessandro Di Domenico, John H Duffus, Lutz Edler, Peter Fürst, Corrado L Galli, Philippe Grandjean, Thierry Guerin, Jadwiga Gzyl, Max Hansen, Gerhard Heinemeyer, Marek Jakubowski, Niklas Johansson, Antonio Mutti and EFSA's staff members Stefano Cappe, Anna Castoldi, Stefan Fabiansson, Claudia Heppner, George Kass for the support provided to this EFSA scientific output. The Panel acknowledges all the Member States that provided lead occurrence data in food and water and supported the consumption data collection for the Concise European Food Consumption Database, Elena Dellatte from the Department of the Environment and Primary Prevention of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (Italy) for providing consumption information and calculating exposure for children, the partners of the EFSA project on the “Individual food consumption data and exposure” for children coordinated by Ghent University (Department of Public Health, University Hospital, Ghent University, Belgium), and RIKILT (Institute of Food Safety, Wageningen, The Netherlands) for the accessibility of the exposure assessment tools. The Panel also thanks Esben Budtz-Jørgensen of the University of Copenhagen (DK) for the modelling of the effect of lead on IQ.
  • Adoption date: 18 March 2010
  • Published date: 20 April 2010
  • Question number: EFSA-Q-2007-137
  • On request from: European Commission


Lead occurs primarily in the inorganic form in the environment. Human exposure is mainly via food and water, with some via air, dust and soil. In average adult consumers, lead dietary exposure ranges from 0.36 to 1.24, up to 2.43 µg/kg body weight (b.w.) per day in high consumers in Europe. Exposure of infants ranges from 0.21 to 0.94 µg/kg b.w. per day and in children from 0.80 to 3.10 (average consumers), up to 5.51 (high consumers) µg/kg b.w. per day. Cereal products contribute most to dietary lead exposure, while dust and soil can be important non-dietary sources in children. Lead is absorbed more in children than in adults and accumulates in soft tissues and, over time, in bones. Half-lives of lead in blood and bone are approximately 30 days and 10 30 years, respectively, and excretion is primarily in urine and faeces. The Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) identified developmental neurotoxicity in young children and cardiovascular effects and nephrotoxicity in adults as the critical effects for the risk assessment. The respective BMDLs derived from blood lead levels in µg/L (corresponding dietary intake values in µg/kg b.w. per day) were: developmental neurotoxicity BMDL01, 12 (0.50); effects on systolic blood pressure BMDL01, 36 (1.50); effects on prevalence of chronic kidney disease BMDL10, 15 (0.63). The CONTAM Panel concluded that the current PTWI of 25 μg/kg b.w. is no longer appropriate as there is no evidence for a threshold for critical lead-induced effects. In adults, children and infants the margins of exposures were such that the possibility of an effect from lead in some consumers, particularly in children from 1–7 years of age, cannot be excluded. Protection of children against the potential risk of neurodevelopmental effects would be protective for all other adverse effects of lead, in all populations.