Update of the Scientific Opinion on opium alkaloids in poppy seeds

Helle Katrine Knutsen, Jan Alexander, Lars Barregård, Margherita Bignami, Beat Brüschweiler, Sandra Ceccatelli, Bruce Cottrill, Michael Dinovi, Lutz Edler, Bettina Grasl-Kraupp, Christer Hogstrand, Laurentius (Ron) Hoogenboom, Carlo Stefano Nebbia, Isabelle P. Oswald, Annette Petersen, Martin Rose, Alain-Claude Roudot, Tanja Schwerdtle, Günter Vollmer, Heather WallaceDiane Benford, Girolamo Calò, Albert Dahan, Birgit Dusemund, Patrick Mulder, Éva Németh‐Zámboriné, Davide Arcella, Katleen Baert, Claudia Cascio, Sara Levorato, Marijke Schutte, Christiane Vleminckx, EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM)

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Poppy seeds are obtained from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum L.). They are used as food and to produce edible oil. The opium poppy plant contains narcotic alkaloids such as morphine and codeine. Poppy seeds do not contain the opium alkaloids, but can become contaminated with alkaloids as a result of pest damage and during harvesting. The European Commission asked EFSA to provide an update of the Scientific Opinion on opium alkaloids in poppy seeds. The assessment is based on data on morphine, codeine, thebaine, oripavine, noscapine and papaverine in poppy seed samples. The CONTAM Panel confirms the acute reference dose (ARfD) of 10 μg morphine/kg body weight (bw) and concluded that the concentration of codeine in the poppy seed samples should be taken into account by converting codeine to morphine equivalents, using a factor of 0.2. The ARfD is therefore a group ARfD for morphine and codeine, expressed in morphine equivalents. Mean and high levels of dietary exposure to morphine equivalents from poppy seeds considered to have high levels of opium alkaloids (i.e. poppy seeds from varieties primarily grown for pharmaceutical use) exceed the ARfD in most age groups. For poppy seeds considered to have relatively low concentrations of opium alkaloids (i.e. primarily varieties for food use), some exceedance of the ARfD is also seen at high levels of dietary exposure in most surveys. For noscapine and papaverine, the available data do not allow making a hazard characterisation. However, comparison of the dietary exposure to the recommended therapeutical doses does not suggest a health concern for these alkaloids. For thebaine and oripavine, no risk characterisation was done due to insufficient data. However, for thebaine, limited evidence indicates a higher acute lethality than for morphine and the estimated exposure could present a health risk.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere05243
Number of pages119
JournalEFSA Journal
Issue number5
Early online date16 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018

Bibliographical note

The CONTAM Panel wishes to thank the hearing experts: Pavel Cihlar, Daniel Doerge and Vaclav Lohr for the support provided to this scientific output. The CONTAM Panel acknowledges all European competent institutions and other stakeholders that provided occurrence data on opium alkaloids in food, and supported the data collection for the Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database.
Adopted: 22 March 2018
Reproduction of the images listed below is prohibited and permission must be sought directly from the copyright holder:Figure A.1 in Appendix A: © Elsevier.


  • poppy seeds
  • opium alkaloids
  • morphine
  • codeine
  • thebaine
  • acute reference dose (ARfD)


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