In the UK, only correctly labelled irradiated herbs and spices are permitted. Irradiation is used to kill bacteria that may be present in food. There are no food safety concerns arising from this survey. However, it remains an important issue of consumer choice and information.
The survey, the first conducted by the Agency to include dietary supplements, found that 58 (42% of the sample) were being sold illegally. The supplements sampled were: alfalfa, Aloe vera, cat's claw, devil's claw, garlic, ginger, Gingko biloba, ginseng, green tea, guarana, kava kava, saw palmetto, silymarin (milk thistle), and turmeric. There were positive results for irradiation in all product types except green tea.
Five out of 202 prawn and shrimp samples and one out of 203 herb and spice samples were also irradiated.
The companies in breach of the regulations have been informed of the results and told to remove the affected products from sale. Relevant local enforcement authorities have been alerted to follow through these actions. The survey was undertaken for surveillance purposes and cannot be used in prosecutions. However, local authorities can undertake further sampling with a view to prosecution. There will be a further joint FSA/local authority survey to check that the companies concerned have taken appropriate action.
Dr Jon Bell, Director of Food Safety Policy at the Food Standards Agency, said:
"These results for dietary supplements are not acceptable. There is no food safety concern, but they are being sold illegally. Consumers should not be misled in this way and the Food Standards Agency has made it clear that the industry must take action to remove affected products."
Food irradiation is a processing technique that helps to reduce the number of food spoiling or disease causing organisms in foods such as herbs and spices. The food is exposed to ionising radiation in a controlled manner. UK and international experts have concluded that this is a safe processing technique for foods.
The survey samples included a wide range of brands, including products available by mail order and via the Internet, in an attempt to reflect the range of products available to UK consumers.
The full results of the survey and brand names are available on www.food.gov.uk
During the course of the survey the Medicines Control Agency advised that kava kava should be withdrawn from sale.