Protein powder was once a niche product, reserved for the larders of hardcore weight lifters. Not anymore. Today the benefits of protein are widely acknowledged—there's even Weetabix Protein—and the sports supplement industry in Britain is now worth £650 million a year.
The Clean Label Project*(a non-for-profit organisation that examines labelling safety issues) measured the levels of heavy metals, bisphenol A (BPA), pesticides, and other contaminants (more than 150 in all) in protein powders and drinks. The study found that virtually all of the 134 products they tested contained detectable levels of at least one heavy metal and 55 percent tested positive for BPA.
The study shows that many of the top-selling powders and drinks may contain concerning levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead and BPA.
BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics (polycarbonate) and epoxy resins since the 1960s. Recent research has shown that BPA can migrate into the food or beverages from materials that are made from BPA and exposure to BPA is a growing concern due to the possible health effects. Metals and BPA substances have been linked to cancer, brain damage, and reproductive issues.
It was also reported that certified organic powders were found to be twice as likely to contain heavy metals as non-organic products. This 2018 study by the Denver-based Clean Label Project used the independent analytical chemistry laboratory to test the animal- and plant-based protein powders. Clean Label selected and purchased the powders from retail store shelves and from online sources.
Fera’s leading metals expert, Nicola Brereton explains how Fera plays a key role in limiting risk by detecting heavy metals in food. “Fera Science, a joint venture between Capita and Defra, is able to deal with emerging food safety issues using the state of the art technology available to its scientists. For example, Fera routinely tests for Arsenic, Lead, Mercury and Cadmium. Fera plays a leading role in this area and is the UK’s National Reference laboratory for analysis for heavy metals.”
Fera is also the UK National Reference Laboratory for Materials and Articles in contact with food. Food contact materials testing is used worldwide to make sure that food is not contaminated by the products it comes into contact with. Our work involves research, surveillance and targeted and non-targeted analysis of known and unknown migrants.