Registration of sulfuryl fluoride as a fumigant in food storage and processing facilities in Australia

The APVMA notes a recent decision by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (external site) to phase out the use of a fluoride-based fumigant (sulfuryl fluoride) in food storage and processing facilities.

The decision was based on an analysis by EPA that human exposure to fluoride in the United States from all sources (including food, water and toothpaste) exceeded Government safety standards. While residue levels in food treated with sulfuryl fluoride make a small contribution to overall fluoride exposures, the EPA nonetheless decided to withdraw approval for its use in food storage and processing facilities. Use will be phased out over a three-year period.

Sulfuryl fluoride is currently also registered in Australia as a fumigant to control insects in buildings and other structures including those used for storage of some food commodities.

While noting the United States decision, the APVMA will not be following it as total Australian exposures to fluoride – including those from commodities treated with sulfuryl fluoride – do not exceed human health safety standards.

While human health standards for fluoride intake are comparable between Australia and the United States, American exposures are reported to be significantly higher. There are higher background levels of fluoride in some water supplies and cumulative fluoride residues on food are higher. For example, whereas sulfuryl fluoride treatments can only be used on cereal grains, dried fruits and nuts in Australia, in the United States they were permitted on dried beef, cheese, chestnuts, cocoa beans, coconut, coffee beans, cotton seeds, dried eggs, ginger root, ham, herbs and spices (dried), powdered milk, peanuts, pinenuts, rice flour, dried legumes, and seeds.

Australian information supporting the APVMA decision is recent. Standards for fluoride consumption (ranging from 0.7 mg/day for an infant to 10mg/day for an adult) were determined by the National Health and Medical Research Council NHMRC) in 2006. Exposure assessments for fluoride were assessed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in 2009.

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