26 Sep 2016

Undesirable substances – AIC Guidance

Undesirable substances in feed or contaminants in food are defined as any substance or product, with the exception of pathogenic agents, which is present in and/or on the product intended for food for human consumption or animal feed and which presents a potential danger to animal or human health, the environment or livestock production.

Some contaminants are formed naturally, carried over to food from water, air or soil, or created as a by-product of the food production process itself.

Further information on Undesirable Substances Legislation.

Examples of these substances are:-

  • Mycotoxins (aflatoxin, Deoxynivalenol (DON), Zearalenone (ZON) and Ochratoxin) which are produced by fungi and can be found in cereals.

  • Arsenic

  • Cadmium

  • Lead

  • Mercury

  • Organochlorine Pesticides

  • Ergot

  • Dioxins and Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) (in oils)

  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) (in oils)

Since many contaminants are naturally occurring, it would be impossible to impose a total ban on these substances. Instead, the best course of action to protect public health is to ensure that these substances are kept at levels which are as low as possible and determined on the basis of sound scientific evidence.

Information on the various permitted levels in animal feed and foodstuffs can be found in the legislation listed below. It is suggested that legislation and permitted levels may change and, therefore, a regular review is required.

Animal Feed

The presence of Undesirable Substances in feed is controlled by European Parliament and Council Directive 2002/32/ EC of 7 May 2002 (as amended), which sets maximum permitted levels (MPLs) for these substances and is given effect in England by regulations 8 and 9 of the Animal Feed (England) Regulations 2010. (Separate but parallel legislation applies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

However, the accepted levels will depend on the customers intended use. For example, dairy herds are sensitive to Aflatoxins while pigs are sensitive to Deoxynivalenol (DON). Therefore, Merchants need to be encouraged to consider the potential difference in end use in their HACCP plan.

Feed that contains a contaminant at a level above the relevant MPL is deemed to be unsafe and must be withdrawn and disposed of outside the feed and food chains, for example by sending it for alternative uses, for destruction, or returning it to the country of dispatch. The 'blending down' of consignments of feed materials with levels of contamination above the MPL – mixing them with uncontaminated consignments in order to reduce the overall level of contamination to below the upper limit – is prohibited.


EU rules (EU 1881/2006 - Setting Maximum Levels for Certain Contaminants in Foodstuffs) ensure that food placed on the market is safe to eat and does not contain contaminants at levels which could threaten human health. The levels are set on the basis of scientific advice provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Member State authorities are responsible for sampling food products, to ensure that they comply with the legislation.

For imported foodstuffs, the country of origin is responsible for compliance with EU legislation, and this is controlled at EU borders and on the market.