Ten Australians in New South Wales Develop Thyroid Problems After Drinking Bonsoy(Updated December 26, 2009 with additional recall details.)
Bonsoy Soy Milk has been linked to at least ten instances of thyroid problems. One of the victims is a newborn, whose mother drank Bonsoy milk during her pregnancy. The soy milk was found to contain excessive amounts of iodine.
All 1-litre TetraPak cartons of Bonsoy Soy Milk labeled with the APN/EAN/TUN Number: 9312336049037 and Best Before dates up to and including 03.11.11 have been recalled. Bonsoy was distributed in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. The recalled soy milk was sold throughout Australia in Coles, Woolworths/Safeway, Metcash, Health Food Shops and cafes.
According to Victoria health authorities, daily consumption of as little as 5mL (for a child) or 30mL (for an adult) of Bonsoy milk would exceed the recommended daily intake of iodine.
What is iodine and why is it important?
Iodine is a naturally occurring mineral that is necessary to the function of the thyroid gland. This gland regulates our metabolism. Too much or too little iodine in the diet can disturb the normal operation of the thyroid gland, resulting in hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
An overactive thyroid produces symptoms such as palpitations, weight loss and fatigue. Hypothyroidism – a condition to which babies appear more susceptible and which is more difficult to detect – can result in fatigue, weight gain and mental clouding.
We need only very small amounts of iodine to ensure correct functioning of the thyroid. It is found most commonly in seawater and seafood, particularly in kelp (seaweed). Often, table salt is iodine-fortified to ensure its presence in the daily diet.
What is Bonsoy, and why did it contain excess iodine?
Bonsoy is a soy milk that is distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Spiral Foods Pty Ltd., a Victoria-based self-proclaimed organic food company. Spiral Foods, which is a distributor of domestic and imported specialty food products, describes Bonsoy thus:
"Bonsoy has a Natural, full bodied mellow aroma and a subtle, mildly sweet flavour. Made from a selected variety of soybeans and processed to a unique and original Japanese recipe.""What we mean by a "traditional recipe" is that soy and grain give a complete protein profile. Kombu (sea-veg), known for its mineral content, is also used when beans are consumed. Job's tears (also known as Hato Mugi) is held in high regard in Chinese medicine for its properties. These ingredients form the corner stone of a "traditional recipe" in that all these products work together not only for taste and texture but also for nutrition."
The iodine in Bonsoy derives from Kombu, a common variety of edible seaweed, much used in Japanese cuisine. The level of iodine in any given batch of Kombu will vary, depending mainly on the iodine content of the seawater where the Kombu grew and, to some extent, the way in which the seaweed was processed and handled after harvest.
So far this year, three separate food alert notifications have been issued by European Union countries due to excessive iodine in seaweed or sea algae from Japan – in January, in April, and in August.
Where was Bonsoy manufactured, and where else is it sold?
Neither the Spiral Foods web site nor the Food Standards Australia recall notice states whether Bonsoy Soy Milk is manufactured in Australia or elsewhere (perhaps Japan). And while the recall notice mentions overseas distribution to New Zealand only, we already have learned that some of the Bonsoy milk was imported into Hong Kong. Distribution of the recalled milk elsewhere in the region would not be surprising.
What should consumers do?
Stop using Bonsoy Soy Milk immediately. Discard any remaining product, or return it to your retailer for a refund. If you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, such as fatigue, or unusual weight loss or weight gain, seek immediate medical attention.
If you live outside of Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong and you encounter Bonsoy Soy Milk for sale, please advise your local health authorities – and either email me directly or post a comment at the end of this article to warn other eFoodAlert readers.