A study assessing the levels of exposure of infants and toddlers to agri-chemicals and contaminants in food will be conducted next year by New Zealand Food Safety.
The authority has released a draft plan for the New Zealand Total Diet Study (NZTDS) for consultation.
The study will assess the exposure of agri-chemicals, contaminants and selected nutrients from a selection of foods and estimate any dietary risk to human health.
It will be the first NZTDS since 2016, with eight such studies carried out between 1974 and 2016.
The 2024 NZTDS will be different to previous studies as it will focus on infants and toddlers.
They are one of the most vulnerable population groups due to underdeveloped immune systems as well as the large amount of food consumed relative to their small body weight. Any food safety risks are likely to be identified through dietary exposure to this age group.
There is also a lack of contemporary national food and nutrient intake data for children and adults to inform food list reviews and dietary exposure assessments, the consultation document says.
The previous NZTDS study analysed 1056 food samples to determine the concentrations of 301 agricultural chemicals, six contaminant elements (aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and tin) and four nutrient elements (iodine, selenium, sodium, and zinc).
Next year’s study will also for the first time include measuring the levels chemicals found in packaging materials (bisphenols and phthalates), mycotoxins (aflatoxin and deoxynivalenol), nitrates, thallium, and folic acid.
Agricultural chemicals have been a primary focus of the NZTDS since its inception.
“Driven largely by high stakeholder and general public interest compared to other chemicals and through pest control being historically reliant on higher toxicity chemistry.
“Regulatory action on agricultural chemicals found to be detrimental to human health and/or the environment has led to banning and phasing out of older agricultural chemicals with these characteristics and there has been a large shift towards ‘greener’ agricultural chemicals,” the document says.
Continued monitoring of aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and inorganic mercury through the NZTDS is strongly warranted.
“This is on the basis that potential adverse health impacts from excess exposure to these environmental contaminants present potential health risks that can be significant, and they are routinely identified as priority contaminants internationally.
“Assessment of trends for these contaminants from previous TDS reports indicates that exposure levels are steady or declining, however continuing to monitor for any changing trends is important to identify if efforts at mitigating these risks are successful or if exposures begin to increase. “
Submissions on the draft close on December 15. From there, the NZTDS will be finalised. From April 2024-March 2025, food samples are collected for analysis.
The final report is scheduled to be published in June 2026.