Expert Warns That Eating Turtle Eggs & Meat Can Lead To Fatal Poisoning In Humans

He cited high metal content and parasitic worms that could cause severe harm after consumption.

Cover image via Bernama & AFP/The Straits Times

Consuming turtle meat on a regular basis should be stopped as it can result in severe, even fatal, poisoning to humans, warns a local expert

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) marine biology lecturer Dr Muhammad Hafiz Borkhanuddin told Bernama on Sunday, 6 September, that eating turtle meat could lead to metallic poisoning as well as a host of diseases caused by parasitic and bacterial infections.

As a research scientist with the university's Faculty of Science and Marine Environment, Hafiz said that turtle meat has been found to contain high concentrations of metal that exceeds international food safety standards.

He warned that eating meat with such high metal content could "cause toxic effects and result in several illnesses such as kidney disease, liver cancer, as well as affect foetal development".

A bowl of Chinese turtle soup in Singapore.

Image via Chensiyuan/Wikipedia

He also advised against eating turtle meat and eggs due to the presence of bacteria, parasitic worms, biotoxins, and environmental pollutants that can be harmful to humans

"From a parasitological perspective, there are many reports that record the presence of eggs and parasitic worms in turtles such as trematoda worms."

He explained that adult trematode parasites are found mainly in sea turtle hearts, while parasite eggs can be found deposited in other organs such as brain, heart, liver, lungs, spleen, kidneys, stomach, intestines, and also the skin - all of which remain common food items for many communities in Malaysia.

"Therefore, consuming turtle meat and eggs should be stopped to reduce the health effects on humans and there is also a need to increase public knowledge on this matter," he said.

Turtle eggs for sale in Kuala Terengganu.

Image via AFP/The Straits Times

Hafiz's warning is not a new finding, but cautionary advice in protecting both the endangered species as well as the public

According to international organisation Turtle Foundation, poisoning from eating turtle meat is a known occurrence and is scientifically described as 'chelonitoxism'.

Although rare, when a toxic turtle appears in a community, it can lead to fatal mass poisonings.

In 2018, the organisation reported that dozens of people in Indonesia were poisoned after eating a sea turtle during a festive ceremony. Three people died in the following days.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via New Straits Times

Currently, turtle meat is still sold in the Malaysian black market to meet the high demand of exotic food enthusiasts both locally and abroad

Hafiz said if this practice continues, the future generations may not have the opportunity to see these animals with their own eyes.

He urged all parties concerned to play their role in curbing the black market trade of turtle meat and eggs.

Meanwhile, he reminded fellow Muslims that the Federal Territory Mufti's Office has placed a ban on eating animals that live both on land and water, including turtles, frogs, and crocodiles.

Earlier this year, sea turtles returned to beaches in Melaka and Port Dickson while people stayed at home:

Meanwhile, in May, Shopee announced that it is banning all sales of turtle eggs on its platform:

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