During the winter of 1971-1972, pink-colored seed grain coated with a Mercury fungicide was ground into bread and tragically consumed by Iraqis tragically exposing over 40,000 people of all ages. 

Toxicological Perspective

Iraq was rocked by a severe drought in 1971 which led to ubiquitous food shortages. Excess grain in the states, which had been treated with a Mercury fungicide, was shipped as aid. These grains, if consumed, pose a serious health risk due to the Mercury.

Organic Mercury has certain antifungal properties that make them beneficial when applied to seed grain. However, people often were unaware that if these seeds were consumed directly rather than planted, they would become very ill. In addition to warning labels, manufacturers started coloring the grain pink as a sign of their toxicity if consumed. Unfortunately those distributing the grain in Iraq could not read English and were unaware of the typical "skull and crossbones" poisoning label. The dye also counterproductive consequences. Many felt that is they washed the dye off, the toxins would be washed off as well. All of this miscommunication had disastrous effects with more than 40,000 being poisoned (#Clarkson, 2002).

Once the Iraqis received the grain, many began grinding it up in to flour to make bread. The consumption of the bread led to several hundred fatalities and a myriad of illnesses.


Clarkson, T. W. (2002). "The Three Modern Faces of Mercury". Environmental Health Perspectives, 110 Suppl 1, 11-23.

Gilbert, Steven G. A Small Dose of Toxicology. CRC Press, 2004.

Mercury Poisoning 1971 - Wikipedia