Ont. farm’s apricot kernels pulled for cyanide risk

A southern Ontario producer of organic dried fruit says it’s pulling its apricot kernels off the market after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned of a risk of cyanide poisoning from the product.

The CFIA on Friday issued a health hazard alert warning the public not to consume “excessive amounts” of Ultra Bitter Apricot Kernels, sold under the Our Father’s Farm brand.

The product, CFIA said, contains amygdalin, a “natural toxin” which may cause acute cyanide poisoning.

Amygdalin, found naturally in bitter apricot kernels, has the potential to release cyanide when the kernels are ingested, CFIA said. “Small amounts of cyanide can be detoxified by the human body, but high amounts may be lethal.”

The product, distributed in Ontario in 227-gram packages, may have been sold nationally, CFIA said, noting “one reported illness associated with the consumption of this product.”

CFIA said Friday that it’s “working with the manufacturer to remove the product from the marketplace.”

The company has posted the CFIA’s statement on its blog below a notice that “we are fully complying with the government to take the products off the shelf and re-label them. This has been a label issue and once we re-label the kernels we are hoping to make them available once again on the shelves.”

Our Father’s Farm, based in the Dundas area on the west side of Hamilton, describes itself on its website as “a source for fresh and dried organic fruit, vitamin B-17 rich apricot seed products, health info, and prayer.”

The company describes the compound “vitamin B17” as being found in the apricot kernel, which it says contains “nitrilosides, protective food factors essential to the human diet that are non-toxic in reasonable amounts and water-soluble.

“We believe apricot kernels are one of the many super foods given to us by the Lord, for excellent health. Our goal is to see that Apricot Kernels and ApriSpice may be as common in every household as salt and pepper is today.”

The company on its website describes vitamin B-17 as “one of the main sources of food in cultures such as the Navajo Indians, the Hunzas, the Abkasians, the Eskimos and many more. Within these tribes, as they consume their local diet, there has never been a reported case of cancer.”

Regulators in the U.S. have taken a different view of vitamin B-17, however. Speaking before a U.S. Senate committee on aging in 2001, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforcement director John Taylor said that while some vitamin B-17 proponents have recommended it to treat or control cancer, the FDA has never approved such claims.

There are no published clinical studies demonstrating that the compound, also referred to “Laetrile,” is safe or effective, and “cancer patients who take it sometimes forgo conventional therapies to their detriment,” Taylor said.

Symptoms of acute exposure to high levels of cyanide can include headache, dizziness, mental confusion, weakness, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, seizures and coma, CFIA said.

The lethal dose of cyanide ranges from 0.5 to three milligrams per kilogram of body weight, CFIA said, and “this is why it is not recommended to eat the kernels inside the pits of stone fruits.”

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