Skeletal formula of retronecine, a pyrrolizidine alkaloid.© Fvasconcellos (Wikimedia Commons)
JRC contributes to special journal issue on pyrrolizidine alkaloids
JRC-researcher Joerg Stroka of the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM), was guest editor of the March issue of the journal Food Additives & Contaminants, dedicated to pyrrolizidine alkaloids, toxins found in many plant species. Mr Stroka wrote a foreword that featured among a series of articles about the current knowledge relating to the toxicity of pyrrolzidine alkaloids, their occurrence, animal and human exposure to those toxins and analytical techniques to detect and quantify them.
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are naturally occurring toxins found in many plant species throughout the world. These can be ingested by eating the plants directly, but also by eating honey and milk or eggs produced by animals that have foraged on plants containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids may result in cirrhosis and necrosis of animal organs, the liver in particular, and they can affect the liver in humans too.
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids have not attracted as much attention as other naturally occurring toxins, but in the last few years this situation has changed. Several plant species, known for their high likelihood of containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids, are explicitly listed in Directive 2002/32/EC on undesirable substances in animal feed.
In 2007, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published an opinion on pyrrolizidine alkaloids in feed, on request of the European Commission. Recently, EFSA has been asked by the European Commission to provide an assessment of the risks related to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in food.
The special issue of Food Additives & Contaminants – published in March 2011 –contains the scientific contributions that were presented at a workshop organised jointly by the JRC and the DG for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO), in February 2010.