Statement of CSPI Food Safety Campaign Manager Dr. James Kincheloe
Today, Senators Tom Cotton, Richard Blumenthal, and John Boozman reintroduced the Stephen Hacala Poppy Seed Safety Act. Representative Steve Womack is leading companion legislation in the House. The bill directs the Food and Drug Administration to set limits for opiates that can contaminate poppy seeds sold to consumers.
Poppy seeds are sourced from the poppy plant, which can be cultivated to harvest opiates like morphine and codeine. The seeds themselves don’t contain substantial levels of these drugs, but they can be contaminated by plant sap and other plant parts which do contain high levels of opiates. Proper processing and washing of seeds can reduce contamination. There are currently no limits for opiate contamination in seeds in the U.S., meaning improperly processed seeds can still reach consumers. When eaten, these contaminated seeds can trigger positive drug tests. When consumers brew poppy seeds into teas, concentrating the opiates, the levels can be high enough to cause overdoses and even deaths.
In 2021, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, along with families harmed by contaminated poppy seeds, submitted a petition to FDA asking the agency to set limits for seeds allowed on the market. Despite the public health harm caused by contaminated seeds, the FDA has failed to act on the CSPI petition after three years.
The Stephen Hacala Poppy Seed Safety Act will expedite and streamline the stalled FDA process to prohibit the sale of contaminated seeds by directing the agency to set contamination limits to prevent consumer injury. The European Union recognized the harm caused by contaminated seeds and set contamination limits in 2022. Consumers here should have the same protection. These contaminated seeds are essentially over-the-counter opiates and should not be available in the U.S. We should not have to worry about failing a drug test from eating a poppy seed muffin.
CSPI supports this bill and is joined by the Association of Food and Drug Officials, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, National Center for Health Research, and Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.