Tropane alkaloids (TAs) are a group of substances that naturally occur in a large number of plants in order to protect them from being eaten by animals. There are more than 200 different known tropane alkaloids, but atropine (a racemic mixture of hyoscyamine enantiomers) and scopolamine are the most significant. TAs mainly occur in farm weeds of the nightshade family, such as daturas, herbanes, and belladonnas. If parts of these plants or their seeds are inadvertently harvested along with the crop, tropane alkaloids can end up in the food as a contaminant. After harvesting, it is not always possible to completely separate the crop from foreign bodies, e.g. by sieving, since the seeds of such weeds are often the same size as the crop. That’s why, for example, datura seeds are very difficult to separate from sorghum, millet, and buckwheat. For this reason, in general in should be a fundamental goal in agriculture to prevent these particular plants from reaching the acre in the first place.
Some plant extracts containing TAs are used in pharmaceutical products due to their properties. However, one should also take into consideration the fact that tropane alkaloids are not only toxic for the animals that feed on these plants but can also be toxic to the human body. Atropine and scopolamine can influence heart rate and the central nervous system, even at low doses. That is why the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a health-based guidance value. The acute reference dose (ARfD) is the amount of a substance per kilogram bodyweight that can be consumed in one meal or over the course of one day without posing any detectable risk. For atropine and scopolamine, this acute reference dose is 0.016 µg per kilogram bodyweight. However, test results have shown that this amount is frequently exceeded, in particular in small children. That’s why a legal maximum level has been set for tropane alkaloids in food products intended for infants and small children that are produced from millet, sorghum, buckwheat or derivatives thereof. The EU Regulation 2016/239 amending Regulation (EC) 1881/2006 states that the maximum levels for atropine and scopolamine are 1 µg/kg each.
The GBA Group carries out testing for tropane alkaloids in accordance with the conditions and limits of quantification required by the EU. We will gladly serve as your expert partner for this topic.