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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Morning sickness treatment alert
Calabash chalk - (c Food Standards Agency)
Calabash chalk can be bought in ethnic shops and markets
A food watchdog has warned that a traditional remedy for morning sickness contains dangerously high levels of lead which could harm an unborn baby.

The Food Standards Agency has warned pregnant women to stop eating the product, and is acting to have the product withdrawn from sale.

If a pregnant or breast-feeding woman is exposed to high levels of lead, it could affect the mental development of the baby, they say.

Calabash chalk, which is sold in ethnic stores and markets is also known as La Craie, Argile, Nzu, Mabele or Calabar Stone.


We are strongly advising that people stop eating Calabash chalk

Dr Diane Benford, Food Standards Agency
It is traditionally used as a cure for morning sickness by women from the Nigerian and West African community.

The chalk is usually imported from West Africa, and is available as a powder or as a moulded shape or block.

The FSA has now asked local environmental health officers to check where the chalk is available and remove it from sale.

EU action

Officers from the London Borough of Greenwich alerted the FSA to the problem after local tests found high levels of lead in samples of calabash chalk.

There is no statutory limit for lead in the chalk. But tests of five further samples by the FSA confirmed levels were up to 4.5 times that recommended by the World Health Organization safety guidelines for exposure to lead in food.

Dr Diane Benford, of the FSA, said: "We are strongly advising that people stop eating Calabash chalk, particularly pregnant women and breast feeding mums, who appear to be its main consumers.

"They are particularly relevant, because the risks from exposure to lead are greatest for the unborn and developing child."

She added: "Calabash chalk may not be a conventional food, but we do know that it is eaten by some pregnant women from Nigerian and West African communities as a traditional remedy for morning sickness."

The FSA has also said it will talk to the European Commission about the possibility of banning the sale of Calabash chalk across the EU.

Anyone who has eaten the chalk and is concerned about their health, or would like advice about other remedies for morning sickness should contact their GP or health visitor.

See also:

18 May 00 | Medical notes
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