Advice from BuRO on the health risks of environmental contaminants in wilderness meat from floodplains

The introduction of wilderness meat from bovine animals from Dutch floodplains on the market should not be allowed until it has been demonstrated that the meat from the respective area meets the maximum levels for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs. This advice is given by the Office for Risk Assessment & Research (BuRO) to the inspector-general of the NVWA.

Other advices

BuRO also provides the NVWA with the following advices:

  • Increase the monitoring of PFAS levels in meat from the floodplains and in regular beef.
  • Notify the operators of large grazers on the increased exposure to dioxins, dioxin-like PCBs and PFAS. Explain which factors play a role in increased exposure of these animals from the floodplains and the possibilities of reducing the levels.

And to the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport:

  • Consider a legal prohibition on the introduction on the market of offal and fat from these animals for human consumption.

Background and question

Wilderness meat comes from specific breeds of cattle such as Galloway, Rode Geus, Tauros and Scottish Highland cattle, that are used year-round for natural grazing in the floodplains and other nature reserves. Surplus animals that cannot be rehomed to other areas are slaughtered and their meat is sold to consumers.

At the beginning of 2020, the NVWA received two notifications on possible consumers' health risks in relation to wilderness meat. In response to these notifications, the NVWA analyzed the presence of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in wilderness meat. Some of the samples had levels of dioxins and PCBs that exceeded the statutory maximum levels (MLs).

Subsequently the Inspection Directorate of the NVWA asked BuRO the following question:

Can the presence of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in wilderness meat from the floodplains lead to risks to consumers' health?


BuRO concluded that there was insufficient information available to answer this question, and commissioned additional research. In this process, the question was also expanded to include two other relevant groups of environmental contaminants: heavy metals[1] and poly and perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS).

BuRO commissioned Wageningen Food Safety Research (WFSR) and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) to conduct additional research.

BuRO has drawn up this advice on the basis of abovementioned research and literature review. When possible, the intake of these substances from wilderness meat was compared with intake from other regular beef and intake from the total Dutch diet.

[1] Cadmium, lead, mercury, copper, nickel and metalloid arsenic.

Answer to the question

In the advice, BuRO determines the health risks related to dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs, heavy metals and PFAS in wilderness meat.

  • Regular consumption of the meat products with a higher fat content leads to an excessive intake of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs. This is not the case when lean meat is consumed.
  • The level of heavy metals and dioxins in organs is too high. However, operators no longer offer the organs of these bovine animals for consumption purposes.
  • The meat of these animals meets the statutory maximum levels applicable for heavy metals in beef.
  • Regular consumption of wilderness meat may contribute to high intake of PFAS, further investigation is required. For a confirmative risk assessment lower analytical detection limits are required.

The research also shows that the levels of dioxins and PFAS can vary greatly per season and between locations. In addition, the levels in meat may decrease if animals are relocated to a clean environment. These variations can potentially be used to reduce contaminant levels. The effect of these measures has not been further investigated for heavy metals.