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Remedies may be recipes for trouble

January 1999

Over-the-counter remedies for common ailments may contain undeclared additives and levels of chemical contamination which are banned in food, says a report from the Food Commission today.

A survey of products for alleviating common ailments such as headaches, indigestion and colds, found that many failed to declare all their ingredients, and some included unexpected animal and insect-derived ingredients, artificial sweeteners, synthetic colourings and high levels of sodium, lead and even arsenic, according to the report published in The Food Magazine today.

'We found some companies hide the information in small print while others do not declare their full ingredient list at all, and some make you open the packet to find out what you've been sold,' said Dr Tim Lobstein, co-director of the Food Commission. 'We found vitamin pills containing colouring agents that have been banned from virtually all foods (e.g. Redoxon slow-release vitamin C) and medications that were sweetened first with sugar and then again with artificial sweeteners (e.g. Lemsip and Resolve). One product (Beechams All-in-one) included three sweetening agents, two artificial colourings and alcohol, while another (Tums) is principally made of chalk with added sugar, starch, flavouring and four artificial colours -- and costs 30 per kilo!'

The survey also cites government-run tests which found high levels of sodium in Boot's effervescent vitamin C, and found levels of lead and arsenic above those permitted in food present in several supplements, including Wassen's garlic tablets. The Food Commission is calling for tighter labelling requirements and a review of the use of non-nutritious food additives in medicinal products.