Alert widens over iodine-tainted soya milk

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Iodine Soy milk Food standards agency

Ireland has become the latest country to issue a food safety alert over iodine-contaminated soya milk from Japan believed to have sickened 10 people in Australia.

Tests have revealed that drinking one cup of the Bonsoy brand of soya milk could exceed the tolerable daily intake (TDI) for iodine by more than 34 times for children up to three years old and seven times for adults.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) confirmed the one-litre packs of Bonsoy soya milk that have been distributed in the country are the same as those implicated in thyroid illnesses in Australia. Irish distributors and suppliers of the soya milk are being contacted to ensure that all affected product is withdrawn from sale. Businesses have also been instructed to issue point of sale notices.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) posted a recall last week after receiving a warning from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) that the product contained “high levels of iodine”.​ An FSA spokesman told the agency was continuing to investigate the UK distribution of the soya milk and was liaising with its Irish counterparts to monitor developments.

The agency added that while most healthy people would not be affected by any slight excess of iodine, those who drank a lot of this soya milk, including toddlers fed soya drinks as an alternative to milk, could be at risk.

Bonsoy soya milk is enriched with Kombu, a seaweed product that naturally contains iodine. However, levels of the substance in the soya milk are extremely elevated, said FSANZ as it confirmed Bonsoy was the only soy milk product identified through testing to have high levels of the chemical. Iodine is an essential element required to make thyroid hormones but if consumption levels exceed tolerable daily intakes, thyroid function can be affected.

Thyroid illnesses

FSNAZ raised the alarm initially on 24 December after confirming that a cluster of nine adults aged 29-47 and one child in New South Wales with thyroid problems all reported consuming Bonsoy soya milk. Subsequent testing of the product revealed what the agency called “unusually high levels of iodine”.​ The agency estimated the iodine contamination was so high that consumption of as little as 30ml (one eighth of a cup) was likely to exceed adult tolerable daily intakes for the chemical.

A healthy daily iodine intake is about 80–150 micrograms with a recommended safe upper limit of 1,100 micrograms per day for adults, and from 200 micrograms for one to three year olds to 900 micrograms for 14 year-olds, said FSANZ.

The body warned daily consumption of a cup of Bonsoy soy milk could lead to a daily iodine intake of more than 7,500 micrograms at the levels tested. Chronic consumption of high levels of iodine may affect the thyroid and cause people to feel generally unwell, it added.

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