A year ago the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the Food and Drug Administration to protect consumers from unprocessed poppy seeds contaminated with naturally occurring opiate residues. In a regulatory petition filed along with medical experts and six families injured by contaminated poppy seeds, we asked the agency to clean up America’s poppy seed supply by setting a maximum limit for opiate contamination and establishing controls on imported seeds.
Today CSPI is asking the FDA for an update on the petition. Other than issuing pro forma responses and collecting comments on a public docket, the FDA has taken no public action, despite increased interest in this issue from consumers, state officials, and members of Congress from both parties. The vast majority of the nearly 3,300 comments to the docket were submitted by individual consumers concerned that the FDA was allowing opiate-contaminated poppy seeds into the food supply.
European regulators established maximum levels of morphine and codeine in poppy seeds and baked goods last year, which are scheduled to take effect in July. In the U.S., while the Department of Justice has pursued enforcement against at least one individual distributor of poppy seeds for allegedly violating drug control laws, that enforcement has not been sufficient to block even that one company from selling seeds.
Last year, researchers at CSPI and Connecticut Poison Control Center co-authored a study documenting injuries related to poppy seed consumption. The group estimates that there have been 20 non-fatal overdoses and 19 deaths in the United States attributable to opiate-contaminated poppy seeds, most of which have occurred since 2015. In a letter today to Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, CSPI said that creating standards for poppy seeds would help address the problem.
“The time is overdue for the FDA to establish standards that will protect U.S. consumers from ingesting dangerous levels of opiates through the food supply,” CSPI wrote. “Accordingly, we are requesting a meeting with you to review the evidence supporting our requests, and to receive an update on the status of our petition.”
If you would like more information from CSPI scientists or lawyers about our work in this area, or would like to talk to families injured by contaminated poppy seeds, please let me know.