The US authorities have detected high level of lead in PRAN's turmeric powder, prompting recalls by stores that purchased the product to sell to consumers there.
Already, four stores in New York, Dallas and Detroit have recalled the turmeric powder, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the New York State Health Department and private laboratory tests detected excessive lead in the product.
The latest was the voluntary recall by Fahman Enterprises Inc. Dallas, said the FDA, in a statement on October 17.
It said the turmeric powder, packaged in transparent plastic flexible bags (400g), contained 48 parts per million (ppm) of lead.
Earlier, tests into PRAN's turmeric powder in plastic packages and plastic jars found the spice contained lead ranging from 28ppm to 53ppm, according to the FDA.
The permissible limit of lead in the product in the US could not be immediately known, but it is 2.5ppm in Bangladesh.
The limit may vary in different countries but it can never exceed 2.5ppm in any country, said a top official of Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI).
Experts say intake of excessive lead cause various health problems and it is particularly dangerous for infants, small children and expecting mothers.
"Lead can accumulate in the body over time. Too [of it] much can cause health problems, including delayed mental and physical development and learning deficiencies. Pregnant women, infants and young children especially should avoid exposure to lead," said the FDA.
The FDA advised consumers who have already bought the product "not to consume it and return it to the place of purchase for a full refund."
Meanwhile, PRAN in a statement yesterday said it would appeal to the FDA for re-examination. The food processor and exporter said the lead found its turmeric powder might be from particular batches or grown in particular areas where the soil contains too much lead.
"We are trying to collect the samples of the batches of those turmeric powder in which lead was found. We will test the samples in Bangladesh laboratories," said PRAN in the statement, signed by its Director (marketing) Kamruzzaman Kamal.
PRAN also said it already contacted a Bangladesh Agricultural University teacher to audit its the entire supply chain management beginning from farming, to help identify the reason behind the presence of high level of lead.
Contacted, Kamruzzaman told The Daily Star last night that his company was not planning to recall the product from the local market. He added the authorities concerned could test the product if they wanted to.
In the statement, PRAN claimed it tested the samples of turmeric powder at the BSTI and the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) by collecting samples from the local markets.
"None of the test reports showed excessive level of lead in powdered turmeric," the statement added.
According to Kamruzzaman, PRAN conducts such tests regularly, the last one being in the last month.
Asked to comment on the government's response, Monoj Kumar Roy, additional commerce secretary, said they would ask the BSTI and the Consumer Rights Protection authorities to look into the matter.
The recalls by the stores in the US began early this month after the New York State Health Department first detected high level of lead. Testing at a private laboratory also showed same results.
The test was initiated following a complaint of illness, according to the FDA.
OnTime Distribution Inc. of Brooklyn, New York, was the first to recall the product voluntarily, according to a FDA press release on October 3.
Later, New York's another store, Asia Cash & Carry Inc, and Best Value Inc. of Detroit recalled the product on the same grounds.
PRAN, country's one of the biggest food processors, is not the only company to export spices and other processed food to the US to tap the markets of non-resident Bangladeshi and the South Asian living there.
Bangladeshi companies exports nearly $4 million worth of processed food and spices to the US, according to Bangladesh Agro-Processors Association.
According to Wais Kabir, executive chairman of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, lead can enter the product at any stage of production -- from farming to processing.
"Without analysing the whole production and processing chain, it can not be said from where lead entered," he said.
Khorshed Alam, director of Soil Resource Development Institute (SRDI), said soil of some certain areas may be a reason, and recommended testing the soil to determine the level of lead in it.
He added the SRDI collected samples from all districts to find out the extent of heavy metals, including lead, in local soil.
"Hopefully, it will be done in three to four months. We cannot say anything now," he said.