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IN RESEARCH: Produce safety center, Herbal kelp warning

By Dave Jones on April 20, 2007 in University

PRODUCE SAFETY CENTER: UC Davis last week announced the establishment of the Center for Produce Safety, using $4 million in private funding — half from the Produce Marketing Association and half from Taylor Farms of Salinas. The center, to be located at UC Davis' Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, will serve as a clearinghouse for research on produce safety, and will fund new scientific studies aimed at reducing risks associated with the nation's produce supply. The partnership is focused on improving research, training, quality verification and consumer education. The state Department of Food and Agriculture gave $500,000 and UC's Agriculture and Natural Resources division gave $150,000 to fund educational outreach programs for fresh produce.

-- Pat Bailey

HERBAL KELP WARNING: A study of herbal kelp supplements led by UC Davis public health expert Marc Schenker concludes that medicinal use of such supplements may cause inadvertent arsenic poisoning and health dangers for consumers, especially when overused. Schenker and two researchers evaluated nine over-the-counter herbal kelp products and found higher than acceptable arsenic levels in eight of them. The new study, published in the April issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, was prompted by the case of a 54-year-old woman who was seen at the UC Davis Occupational Medicine Clinic following a two-year history of worsening alopecia (hair loss), fatigue and memory loss. Subsequent laboratory tests finally revealed arsenic in the patient's blood and urine. At her physician's suggestion, the patient discontinued the kelp supplement, and, within weeks, her symptoms disappeared. Within months, arsenic was no longer detected in her urine, and the arsenic level in her blood had dropped significantly. The complete article — titled "A Case of Potential Arsenic Toxicity Secondary to Herbal Kelp Supplement," was co-authored by Eric Amster of the UC Davis School of Medicine, and Asheesh Tiwary of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System.

-- David Ong, UC Davis Health System

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,