Ireland's food safety agency is investigating whether food supplements containing animal by-products could cause variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease, the human form of mad cow disease. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is investigating whether gelatine is used in tablets, powder and syrups following the news that a second person has died from vCJD in Northern Ireland.
A spokesman for the FSAI told the Irish Examiner that up to a few years ago, most capsules were made from gelatine, magnesium stearate and calcium stearate - all extracted from the parts of animal carcasses which carry specified risk material (SRM) linked to CJD or variant CJD. However, in recent years, casings for food supplements and alternative medicines are more commonly made from oil or vegetable-based products.
The FSAI was asked to carry out the investigation by the CJD Advisory Group of the Department of Health, and the agency's director of consumer protection Pat O'Mahony said it had been asking manufacturers, distributors and shops to send it lists of all their products and make a declaration that their ingredients do not contain the risk materials. "I don't expect any problems, but any non-compliant products will be withdrawn from the market," he told the paper. "We will be going into shops and making sure the name of every product has been submitted, and also doing some random sampling of supplements," he said.
The investigation will last until the end of the year, and will involve the examination of between 25,000 and 30,000 products. It has received the support of the Irish Association of Health Stores, which was keen to stress that its products were safe and healthy. "Most of these supplements are made to the same standards as pharmaceutical products, and capsules are the same whether they hold evening primrose oil or a prescription," it told the paper.