Nitrite in feed: From Animal health to human health


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Abstract

Nitrite is widely consumed from the diet by animals and humans. However the largest contribution to exposure results from the in vivo conversion of exogenously derived nitrate to nitrite. Because of its potential to cause to methaemoglobin (MetHb) formation at excessive levels of intake, nitrite is regulated in feed and water as an undesirable substance. Forages and contaminated water have been shown to contain high levels of nitrate and represent the largest contributor to nitrite exposure for food-producing animals. Interspecies differences in sensitivity to nitrite intoxication principally result from physiological and anatomical differences in nitrite handling. In the case of livestock both pigs and cattle are relatively susceptible. With pigs this is due to a combination of low levels of bacterial nitrite reductase and hence potential to reduce nitrite to ammonia as well as reduced capacity to detoxify MetHb back to haemoglobin (Hb) due to intrinsically low levels of MetHb reductase. In cattle the sensitivity is due to the potential for high dietary intake and high levels of rumen conversion of nitrate to nitrite, and an adaptable gut flora which at normal loadings shunts nitrite to ammonia for biosynthesis. However when this escape mechanism gets overloaded, nitrite builds up and can enter the blood stream resulting in methemoglobinemia. Looking at livestock case histories reported in the literature no-observed-effect levels of 3.3 mg/kg body weight (b.w.) per day for nitrite in pigs and cattle were estimated and related to the total daily nitrite intake that would result from complete feed at the EU maximum permissible level. This resulted in margins of safety of 9-fold and 5-fold for pigs and cattle, respectively. Recognising that the bulkiness of animal feed limits their consumption, these margins in conjunction with good agricultural practise were considered satisfactory for the protection of livestock health. A human health risk assessment was also carried out taking into account all direct and indirect sources of nitrite from the human diet, including carry-over of nitrite in animal-based products such as milk, eggs and meat products. Human exposure was then compared with the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for nitrite of 0-0.07 mg/kg b.w. per day. Overall, the low levels of nitrite in fresh animal products represented only 2.9% of the total daily dietary exposure and thus were not considered to raise concerns for human health. It is concluded that the potential health risk to animals from the consumption of feed or to man from eating fresh animal products containing nitrite, is very low.

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