PFAS and livestock
Agriculture Victoria is working with the community and other government agencies to ensure that the livestock sector understands issues relating to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). This includes providing assistance to relevant authorities undertaking human health risk assessments.
Advice from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) informs the human health risk associated with consumption of livestock, and EPA communicates advice regarding potential impacts on personal consumption.
Decisions on retail food consumption are made by Victoria's Chief Health Officer in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in conjunction with relevant agencies.
A recent literature review carried out by Agriculture Victoria indicated no evidence of negative impacts on livestock health from studies currently available worldwide.
What are PFAS?
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals widely used since the 1950s in household and industrial products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. This included non-stick cookware, food packaging, stain protection applications to fabric, furniture and carpet, and fire-fighting foams.
From 1970, firefighting foams containing PFAS were used extensively in Australia and elsewhere due to their effectiveness in fighting liquid fuel fires.
There are many types of PFAS, with the best known examples being perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).
Why is there interest in PFAS?
PFAS are of interest because they can persist for a long time, both in the environment and in animals, including humans.
In humans, there is no consistent evidence that PFAS cause any specific illnesses. However, since these chemicals remain in humans and the environment for many years, it is recommended that as a precaution human exposure to PFAS be minimised wherever possible.
Many countries have phased out, or are progressively phasing out, the use of some PFAS chemicals due to concerns about their persistence, bioaccumulation and environmental toxicity.
How are livestock exposed to PFAS?
Livestock can potentially be exposed to PFAS through the consumption of contaminated surface water, groundwater, pasture or soil.
Do PFAS affect livestock?
There has been no evidence of PFAS affecting the health or production of grazing livestock in Australia.
Is water and pasture safe for livestock?
Unless advised by the relevant authority(s) not to utilise your water supply, there is no reason to be concerned about using this for livestock.
The same applies to the use of pasture, including for the making of hay and silage.
Does PFAS exposure of livestock need to be declared on the National Vendor Declaration?
The signing of a Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) National Vendor Declaration (NVD) is a matter for the livestock producer.
Agriculture Victoria has consulted both SAFEMEAT and the company that delivers the LPA program and NVDs, the Integrity Systems Company, and confirmed there is currently no need for PFAS to be addressed on the LPA NVD.
Signing the LPA NVD needs to take into account the rules of the LPA program. Producers should consult with LPA if they have specific queries about the use of the NVD.
The LPA program is the Australian livestock industry's on-farm assurance program covering food safety, animal welfare and biosecurity. The LPA NVD is the main document behind Australia's reputation as a reliable supplier of safe red meat to domestic and international markets.
Red meat producers are required to complete a NVD for all livestock movements.
Is there a maximum level for PFAS in food sourced from livestock?
There is no maximum level for PFAS for food products sourced from livestock.
The maximum level is the limit placed on the level of a contaminant in food. Maximum levels for certain contaminants and natural toxicants are set under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and adopted under Victorian legislation.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has found no clear evidence of any adverse health effects of PFAS in human populations. On this basis, a regulatory approach has not been recommended for PFAS in the general food supply, and this is consistent with the findings of other international agencies.
However, since these chemicals remain in humans and the environment for many years, it is recommended that as a precaution human exposure to PFAS be minimised wherever possible.
No country has set regulatory limits for PFAS in food, as to date there is no clear evidence of any adverse effects of PFAS in human populations.
Find out more about the PFAS hazard assessment by Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
Are there guidelines for PFAS in food derived from livestock?
Food Standards Australia New Zealand has developed non-regulatory 'trigger points' for livestock products including meat, offal and milk, as well as seafood, fruits and vegetables.
The trigger points are used by government authorities to identify whether further investigation may be required if PFAS is detected in analysed foods.
Does PFAS affect the sale of livestock products such as meat?
There are no domestic or internationally regulated maximum levels for PFAS in food as to date there is no clear evidence of any adverse effects of PFAS in human populations. However, since these chemicals remain in humans and the environment for many years, it is recommended that as a precaution human exposure to PFAS be minimised wherever possible.
There are currently no restrictions on domestic or international trade in agricultural products in relation to PFAS.
Is it safe to consume meat or other animal products from livestock exposed to PFAS?
Unless you receive advice from a government authority that meat or other animal products from livestock are unsafe, these products should be considered safe for human consumption.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand has found no clear evidence of any adverse health effects of PFAS in human populations. However, since these chemicals remain in humans and the environment for many years, it is recommended that as a precaution human exposure to PFAS be minimised wherever possible.
Is testing of livestock for PFAS possible?
Levels of PFAS in livestock can be determined in blood and tissues (meat and offal) by laboratory testing. Such testing is expensive and takes several weeks. The testing is highly specialised and is only undertaken by a limited number of laboratories.
Testing livestock for PFAS is best undertaken only after comprehensive environmental testing for PFAS has been completed. If this testing indicates elevated levels and livestock have potentially been exposed, then testing of livestock for PFAS may be considered.
What is Agriculture Victoria doing about PFAS contamination?
Agriculture Victoria is working closely with other government departments and agencies, and monitoring the situation. This includes providing assistance to relevant authorities undertaking human health risk assessments.
Department of Defence Victorian site investigations
The Department of Defence is currently investigating three sites in Victoria with potential PFAS contamination, including Bandiana Military Area, HMAS Cerberus and RAAF Base East Sale.
If you have further questions on livestock related issues, contact an Agriculture Victoria Veterinary or Animal Health Officer by visiting your local Agriculture Victoria office or telephoning 136 186.
Further information on PFAS in Victoria:
- PFAS and human health information from DHHS
- PFAS in Victoria, including assessment and management from the Environment Protection Authority Victoria