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100 seconds of BfR: New online film format for consumers

06/2016, 02.02.2016

BfR web film provides information about pyrrolizidine alkaloids in tea and honey

What substances can harm the body? And how do I best protect myself from health risks? In order to be able to answer such questions faster and more efficiently, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has launched a new film series on its website. Entitled "100 seconds of BfR", the films show experts briefly and succinctly explaining the most important information on a current topic from the areas of food, product and chemical safety. "Our surveys indicate that there is insufficient awareness in the population regarding certain health risks", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "For this reason, we have developed an online format that ensures quick and direct communication with consumers." The series is launched with an episode on pyrrolizidine alkaloids in tea and honey.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) can damage the liver and in some cases the lungs. In animal experiments, pyrrolizidine alkaloids also had mutagenic and carcinogenic effects. Measurements have shown that herbal tea, black tea and honey can contain relatively high quantities of PA. When consuming honey, herbal tea or tea infusions, acute health risks resulting from the ingestion of PA are unlikely in consumers. As a matter of principle, however, the production and manufacture of honey, herbal tea and tea should incorporate measures to minimise PA contents to ensure that the possible health risk is reduced to the greatest possible extent even in case of high consumption of these products over long periods of time. Parents are advised not to exclusively offer their children herbal and black teas until the PA contents have been minimised by food entrepreneurs. Until this is the case, pregnant and breastfeeding women should alternate between herbal and black teas on the one hand and other beverages on the other. This also applies to persons who largely cover their fluid intake needs with herbal tea.

PA are natural plant substances which many plants form as protection against predators. These include, among others, ragwort, groundsel, and viper’s bugloss as well as other members of the borage, aster and legume family. If the leaves of black or herbal tea are contaminated with plant parts from PA-containing plants during the harvest or bees collect pollen from PA-containing plants, teas and honey can be contaminated with PA.

The film "100 seconds of BfR - PA in tea and honey" can be accessed (in german) on the BfR website at

The subject of "pyrrolizidine alkaloids" was discussed, for example, at the 16th BfR forum on consumer protection in December 2015.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.


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