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Summary of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids status seminar

Summary of the status seminar: ‘Tea and honey – old foods with new challenges; pyrrolizidine alkaloids between scandalisation and trivialisation’.

Summary of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids status seminar

For some time now, tea and honey, both much-loved by consumers, have been the focus of media interest due to data published by Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). Studies detected plant-specific ingredients (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) that could impair the health of consumers.

For this reason, on 26 February 2014, the Institut Kirchhoff Berlin GmbH held a status seminar on pyrrolozidine alkaloids in tea and honey, with speakers from the industry, science and consumer protection. New insights into the current state of research were discussed in front of more than 50 participants. The speakers shed light on the individual steps, from cultivation to harvest and sale. The speeches and discussions made clear that cultivation and harvesting conditions are of central importance to the formation/detection of the substances. The toxicological analysis of these plants’ own compounds and therefore possible recommended intakes for the consumer require reliable analytical detection methods. The seminar attested that these examination methods are already available to private service providers and official inspection centres, and that economic operators should immediately make use of them. The important question on consumers’ lips is of course how many cups of tea or spoons of sugar they can consume without affecting their health. However, there is currently no clear answer, as the data available on these plants’ own sustances in the foods affected is insufficient. Conclusions and demands of the economy: Continuous analytical examinations at all levels: cultivation, harvesting, processing and refining.

Conclusions and demands of science: Refinement of the analysis, distribution of a qualified BfR standard, deepening of knowledge on the toxicological potential of these substances and extrapolation of maximum quantities in the affected foods for individual consumer groups; politics: Codifying the scientifically substantiated maximum values. Fundamentally, excessive consumption of these foodstuffs should be avoided, and for babies and infants must be kept to a minimum. At the moment, there is no apparent acute risk to health from the consumption of typical quantities of tea and honey.

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