The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is advising the industry to remove from sale 10 herbal supplement products, following a survey, requested by the European Commission, to determine the extent of irradiation in herbal supplements on the EU market.
The Irradiated Herbal Supplements Survey revealed that 10 of 24 herbal supplement samples tested were found to have been irradiated or contain irradiated components without the correct labelling. Among these supplements were products from leading suppliers such as Holland & Barrett, Boots, Solgar and Nature's Way.
Herbal supplements are not allowed to be irradiated in the EU, although certain constituents of herbal supplements may legally be irradiated provided that the final products indicate their presence on labelling. In Ireland, there are currently no facilities authorised to irradiate food although foods that have been legally irradiated and labelled appropriately are permitted on the Irish market, according to the FSAI.
None of the products in the survey found to be irradiated were labelled appropriately, according to the FSAI, which says it is in the process of examining other herbal supplements on the Irish market to determine the full extent of the problem.
"Products that are irradiated and not correctly labelled cannot be sold in Ireland or the EU," said Alan Reilly, deputy chief executive, FSAI. "There is an EU approved list of products that can be irradiated, and they must state they have been irradiated on their labelling. This ensures we know exactly which types of products have approval and thus we have a form of traceability and back up information on those products."
Food irradiation is used to reduce the level of harmful or spoilage micro-organisms in food, kill any insects or pests that may be harboured in certain foods, delay ripening of fruits and vegetables and prevent sprouting or germination in foods such as potatoes, onions and garlic.
"While irradiation is not suitable for all foods, the process is generally considered safe when carried out under controlled conditions and in suitable facilities," said Reilly. "Contrary to some beliefs, irradiated foods are not radioactive and according to the World Health Organisation and other international health bodies pose no threat to human health. However, it is crucial that the food industry is aware of its legal obligations in regard to food irradiation so that consumers can be assured that this technology is being used in a constructive and verifiable manner."
A list of foods authorised for irradiation is currently being drawn up by the European Commission but as yet contains only dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings. Until this list is completed, the Commission states that individual Member States may continue to irradiate those foods which appear on a separate list of national authorisations.
Foods that have been legitimately irradiated must however carry specific labelling. Foods that have been irradiated but are not authorised at national or EU level are not permitted on the EU market. Irradiated food may be imported into the EU as long as it has been irradiated in authorised facilities in recognised countries and the food is on either a national or EU authorisation list.
Under EU legislation, a food may be irradiated only if there is a reasonable technological need, it does not present a health hazard, it is of benefit to consumers and it is not used as a substitute for hygiene and health practices or for good manufacturing or agricultural practice.
The FSAI coordinates routine analyses each year of imported herbs and spices and submits the results to the European Commission. The survey of the herbal supplements is part of its plan to broaden the scope of the foods it tests for irradiation.
The 10 products that were found to be irradiated were: Raspberry leaves from Good'n'Natural Select Herbals; Devil's Claw by Solgar, Black Cohosh Sona by Herbal Remedies; Dong Quai from Boots; Turmeric by Cynara; Silymarin Milk Thistle from Good'n'Natural Select Herbals; Saw Palmetto from Good'n'Natural Select Herbals; Unique Garlic by Holland & Barrett; Butcher's Broom Root from Nature's Way Herbal Single; and Devil's Claw by Rivo.
A complete report on this survey along with further information on food irradiation is available on the FSAI website.