Heavy metals in agricultural soils of the European Union with implications for food safety
Author: G. Tóth European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability
Soil plays a central role in food safety as it determines the possible composition of food and feed at the root of the food chain. However, the quality of soil resources as defined by their potential impact on human health by propagation of harmful elements through the food chain has been poorly studied in Europe due to the lack of data of adequate detail and reliability. The European Union’s first harmonized topsoil sampling and coherent analytical procedure produced trace element measurements from approximately 22,000 locations. This unique collection of information enables a reliable overview of the concentration of heavy metals, also referred to as metal(loid)s including As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Hg, Pb, Zn, Sb. Co, and Ni. In this article we propose that in some cases (e.g. Hg and Cd) the high concentrations of soil heavy metal attributed to human activity can be detected at a regional level.While the immense majority of European agricultural land can be considered adequately safe for food production, an estimated 6.24% or 137,000 km2 needs local assessment and eventual remediation action.