Arsenic exposure had been linked to increased risk of lung, skin and bladder cancer, the FSA said, while lead could stunt brain development in children and affect intellectual performance.
Pregnant women were also at risk, the agency said, because of the threat to unborn children, and (adding that it was not a definitive list), cited the following products and retailers below:
Bentonite Clay (sold by buywholefoodsonline.co.uk, nealsyardremedies.com) Calcium Bentonite Clay (natures-harvest.co.uk) Montmorillonite Clay (synergy-health.co.uk, naturalrussia.com), and Edible Earth digestive detoxicant and mineral supplement (detoxpeople.eu, wholesalehealthltd.co.uk).
One US website – Sonne’s Organic Foods – markets ‘Liquid Hydrated Bentonite Clay’ as a beverage-based detoxificant, derived from the volcanic clay, which has a beneficial ‘cleansing action’.
An FSA spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com: “The issue is that a lot of these things are just clay powder, but then are marketed as detox drinks, i.e. you mix it with water and it will ‘suck out all your toxins’. It doesn’t matter that you’re drinking, well, concrete almost.”
She added: “But there are lots of other clay-based detox drinks out there, there’s a massive proliferation of ways in which such products are used.
Asked about trace amounts of such substances, the spokeswoman said: “It’s all about safe levels. Arsenic and lead occur in everyday life anyway – lead can even be present in normal foods.
“But it’s about the quantity that you are exposed to. In these specific products, it was determined that the levels of arsenic and lead were dangerous to human health.”
The FSA spokeswoman explained that some food grade Bentonite Clay was perfectly acceptable for human consumption, but would not have dangerously high arsenic and lead levels.
She said the agency was aware that many such products were still on the market. “That’s why we’ve issued the reminder, which we wouldn’t do if it were just a case of a couple.
“And these products are sold online, and the problem with independent sellers (especially if you can’t trace the manufacturer) is how you get hold of people and advise them on the dangers.”
Firm ‘assured’ of clay quality
A spokeswoman for Nature’s Harvest, one of the firms cited by the FSA, told BeverageDaily.com that she had sourced the Bentonite Clay from another firm on the agency’s list, Natural Russia.
She said: “I never actually saw the Bentonite Clay at all, but I was assured it was good quality. And I wasn’t selling it for food use. There was information on the product about the history of clay, how people used it.”
“But nothing on there saying ‘take three teaspoons a day’ or that it was for food use at all.”
So would Nature’s Harvest sell Bentonite Clay again, if lead and arsenic levels were within European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) food limits? “Of course – lots of people use for skin use, or for dogs that have skin problems,” she added.
The spokeswoman recommended that we contact ‘Galina’ at Natural Russia for more information, but the naturalrussia.com website is now offline due to “planned product and informational changes and restructuring”.