Eating a wild mushroom called fausse morille géant caused 14 people in the Alps to develop fatal motor neurone disease, scientists have found.
The mystery of why 14 people from Savoie, aged 39 to 75, developed the muscle-wasting disease in the 1990s to early 2000s was solved after investigators called in University of Oregon neurotoxicology expert Peter Spencer, who had studied a similar case in the Pacific.
They had first considered elements such as lead in the water, radon gas leaking from the ground, and pollution from pesticides.
All the people were known to have eaten a particular wild mushroom, called in English ‘the giant’s false Morel’, with the Latin name gyromita gigas.
False morels are banned in France
Sales of mushrooms of the ‘false morel’ type are already banned in France due to health concerns, and these findings have confirmed the high risks that they pose.
Food safety agency Anses has reported the usual annual peak of mushroom poisoning cases last month, rising to a total of 600 from July to mid-October.
Two or three people die from this in France every year.
Anses warns not to eat wild mushrooms unless you are sure what they are, as dangerous ones can look similar to edible ones.
If in doubt, ask a pharmacy or a mycological society. Anses also warns against identification apps, saying they are not reliable.