Letter: Safety guidelines for apple juice

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Sir: Your leading article 'When secrecy clouds the issue' (11 February) queries the apparent discrepancy between the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline levels for patulin in apple juice and the reassurances given by myself and others when these levels are exceeded. It is relatively easily explained.

The data we have quoted comes from a 1990 WHO/FAO (the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation) committee report. After reviewing the effect of patulin in a two-year rat study, the committee determined a 'no-effect' level of 0.1mg per kg body weight per day. When this is grossed up for a 70kg adult consuming apple juice containing 50 parts per billion (ppb) of patulin, it is equivalent to 140 litres of juice a day.

To set the guideline limits for human consumption, however, it is a toxicological convention to allow a very large, but arbitrary, safety margin of 100-fold on the animal data. When this is done, the guideline level then becomes 1.4 litres per day of the same juice (at 50 ppb).

It is absolutely proper that such safety margins should be set, and that juice producers should seek to reduce their patulin levels as far as they can.

It is plain scaremongering, however, to suggest that short-term exposure to juices containing levels of patulin above the guidelines will pose any significant risk to human health.

Yours sincerely,


Head of Beverage Research

Reading Scientific Services

The University



12 February