States and shops act over guar gum fears

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Guar gum, European union

EU member states are taking action over the possibility of food
products contaminated by guar gum containing high dioxin levels,
but the full extent of the problem is not yet known.

Two weeks ago the European Commission informed member states of fears about dioxin levels in guar gum supplied by Switzerland's Unipektin, after it was discovered to contain between 12 and 156 pictograms of dioxin per gram of fat, according to Swissinfo. This is way over the EU accepted level of one to six pictograms. In response to the Commission's request that states identify, hold, and test all batches of guar gum from the supplier, the UK's Food Standards Agency met with industry representatives last week to ascertain whether any of the affected ingredient has been used in the UK. According to a report from MTI, foods have been recalled from supermarket shelves in France and Germany. Swiss retail chain has also withdrawn products, and in Hungary a batch of contaminated food is said to have been intercepted before distribution to stores. Unipektin, which used guar gum from an undisclosed Indian supplier in its Vidocrem thickener, said on Friday that it cannot yet quantify the amount of gum that has been polluted. "Our investigations are in progress,"​ it said. "We have not received all customers' feedbacks yet."​ The firm added that it does not know the exact formulations of finished products. Guar gum is most commonly used in meat, dairy, dessert and delicatessen products. Vidocrem is used in yoghurt, mayonnaise, vinaigrette and ketchup. Unipektin said it has been working with the Indian supplier for the last two years, but that it is not its main supplier. "The products from our other suppliers have been analysed and no contamination whatsoever has been found,"​ it said. Toxic dioxins are formed as by-products of industrial processes involving chlorine, such as pesticide manufacturing and waste incineration. They have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and birth defects, and immune disorders. But Unipektin said that since guar gum is highly diluted in food products, "there is no acute health risk for consumers."​ The problem was not identified earlier as, under Unipektin's risk analysis and quality management systems, there was no need to check vegetal low-fat raw materials of this kind. No indication for the cause of the contamination has been given beyond Unipektin's belief that it occurred in India. The firm says investigations are underway, and it is its duty to find out the exact cause. As an interim measure, it is presently checking all raw materials for dioxins. The FSA also downplayed the risk to consumers: "Based on the information so far available, there is no immediate health risk to consumers, but as these chemicals have the potential for a range of toxic effects, people shouldn't be exposed to them unnecessarily."

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