'Cancer' alert over apple juice

The Government yesterday warned consumers not to drink six brands of apple juice that have been found to contain raised levels of patulin, a cancer-causing chemical. But most of the suspect batches of drink have already been sold - and probably drunk.

Chemical analysis commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture found that patulin concentrations exceeded the Government's precautionary limit by as much as tenfold.

Last night, the ministry said four of the six brands were produced in only small quantities and it understood none them were stocked by the large supermarket chains. Two of the manufacturers were recalling bottles still on the shop shelves; the rest have sold out.

The brand with the highest patulin level, Sun-Ripe Freshly Pressed English Apple Juice, had been sold by Harrods and Selfridges in London, according to the ministry. But since the "use by" date was 18 July, it was extremely unlikely that anyone was still drinking it.

Patulin is an alfatoxin, a natural product made by moulds growing on apples. Tests on animals have shown it can cause liver cancer. The precautionary limit is set very low at 50 parts per billion. The Sun-Ripe sample registered 490 ppb.

The ministry said only two of the affected brands, Sun-Ripe and James White long-life Cox Apple Juice sold in large quantities. The remaining four brands, all of which are long-life juices with "best before dates" next August or in January 1997, are Torside freshly pressed English apple juice (Cox and Bramley), Torside farm-pressed Egremont Russet, Torre Fruit Farm pure apple juice, and Duskins pure English apple juice (Bramley).

The ministry said the batches in question had either sold out or were being withdrawn from shop shelves by the makers. It asked customers to retturn any unused packages to wherever they bought them. Officials stressed that drinking several bottles would pose no health risk because the precautionary limit was set low.

tAlarm about the British apple industry is expressed today by the Commons select committee on Agriculture over the number of farmers seeking grants to "grub up" their orchards, reducing over-production of Euro-varieties such as the Golden Delicious. The MPs say: "We have no wish to talk down the UK apple industry but we must faithfully report that we have found widespread gloom that financial strangulation of the industry has caused producers to take so much productive acreage out of commission."

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