Toxicity of 'Vetch' Lentils
Cynoalanine and 'Vetch' Lentils Julian Francis 20.10.99
Re: Cynoalanine and 'Vetch' Lentils André Briend 26.10.99
Re: Cynoalanine and 'Vetch' Lentils Marion Kelly 26.10.99

Date: Thu, 21 Oct 1999 07:18:32 +0600 (GMT+0600)

From: Julian Francis <>

Subject: Cynoalanine and 'Vetch' Lentils


Last year while procuring rice and dal (lentils) for people affected by the 1998 flood and we came across the Australian "Vetch" variety of lentils. All the supplies we saw were accompanied by a Govt of Australia certificate saying that the food was fit for human consumption. It was significantly lower in price than the local similar variety, 'moshur', and it is even now available on the market in Dhaka.

It has recently been on the front pages alleging tha Vetch QUOTE contains a toxic substance called "cynoalanine" which can build up in the brain, liver and nerve centres causing health hazards UNQUOTE The report says that the import is already banned in India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

I will be most grateful for any news/facts you can give me on this from food scientists or nutritionists. We have to look at our responsibility for making limited financial resource go as far as possible and feed as many people as possible, but obviously we need to be aware of the dangers there may be.

Many thanks


Julian Francis, Disaster Preparedness Delegate

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Dhaka, Bangladesh

Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 12:42:45 +0100

From: "Andre' Briend" <>

Subject: Re: Cynoalanine and 'Vetch' Lentils


A variety of lentil (latin name: lathyrus sativus) is known to contain a substance inducing a disease called lathyrism associated with severe neurological damage. This may be the variety of lentil you refer too (check latin name).

This variety of lentil is non toxic when eaten at small dose. I am not surpised that it got a 'fit for human consumption' from the Australian Govt. It used to be eaten in some parts of France with no adverse effects.

Problems arise when it becomes a staple food.

In Bangladesh, during famine periods, people tend to consume higher quantities of this lentil which is more resistant and this results in epidemics of lathyrism. Memories of what occured in the 1974 famine is still present. You should get all the info you need about this topic from the local institute of nutrition.

I would in any case avoid distributing this food as a famine relief food in Bangladesh since you are not sure to prevent over consumption in some cases. Neurological damage can be severe and is irreversible.

I hope this helps



Dr. André Briend

ISTNA, Groupe Nutrition Santé, 5 rue du Vertbois, 75003 Paris, France

tel : 33-1-53 01 80 36, fax : 33-1-53 01 80 38

Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 14:25:23 +0000

From: Marion Kelly <> T

Subject: Re: Cynoalanine and 'Vetch' Lentils


In Ethiopia there have been epidemics of neurolathyrism (irreversible spastic paralysis, which for some reason affects mainly older boys and men) associated with use of vetch (lathryrus pea) as a famine food.

For details see:

Gebre-ab T et al (1978) Neurolathyrism - a review and a report of an epidemic. Ethiopian Medical Journal 16:1-11.

For a summary see:

Kelly M Disaster in the Horn of Africa: the impact on public health, in Sorenson J (Ed) Disaster and Development in the Horn of Africa, Macmillan, 1995.