Conclusions

The safety of the food supply affects the entire population of a country. Current laws and regulations in the United States have resulted in the provision of one of the safest food supplies in the world. However, as production and processing methods of food continue to change, new challenges and issues in food toxicology continue to arise.

The level of exposure to naturally occurring toxins may increase in the near future as a result of the increased development of functional foods and pest-resistant crops. Functional foods or nutraceuticals represent a rapidly growing segment of the food industry. Functional foods are defined as foods that contain components with anticipated health benefits. Examples include beverages with added herbal extracts, cereals with added fiber, and vegetables and fruits bred to contain higher levels of antioxidants or other phytochemicals. Concerns regarding environmental and health impacts of pesticide use have resulted in the drive to lower pesticide use through the development of biological pesticides and pest-resistant crops. In many cases, pest resistance is achieved through increasing the plant's naturally occurring defense mechanisms, which may involve naturally occurring toxicants. In both cases, the goal is to improve overall health. However, as mentioned earlier, our current level of understanding of the dose-response curves for naturally occurring compounds is very limited, making it extremely difficult to determine when levels of exposure cease being beneficial and start to become harmful.

Understanding of the interactions between the many compounds in the diet and the interaction between diet and other environmental compounds is another area of needed research. The requirement of the FQPA to consider all pesticides with a common mechanism of action is one step toward recognizing the need to consider the impact of exposure to a variety of compounds. This is a very complex and difficult question to address, but research on this topic is beginning to increase.

Consumer understanding of the dose-response concept is critical to their understanding of how low levels of food additives and pesticides in foods can pose little to no risk, even though these compounds may have toxic effects at high doses. Consumer acceptance of pesticide residues and processes such as food irradiation has been shown to increase after educational programs to develop this type of understanding. The commonly held beliefs "natural is safe" and that "synthetic chemicals pose a greater risk than natural compounds" also need to be addressed through public educational programs. Greater understanding of these issues will prevent undue concern and overreaction to the presence of small amounts of synthetic chemicals and may prevent poisonings and adverse health effects caused by overzealous consumption of "natural" compounds with promised health benefits.

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