SCOTLAND’S food watchdog has issued an urgent warning over the danger of a deadly chemical found in slimming supplements after a new survey found people in Scotland are ignorant of DNP, a highly toxic substance that has claimed the lives of 26 people in the UK since 2007.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said they are deeply concerned after learning the extent of the public’s lack of awareness over the serious health consequences of DNP – also known as 2,4-dinitrophenol.

The watchdog particularly wants anyone presently taking a weight-loss supplement to be make sure they can verify it does not contain DNP.

An industrial chemical, mainly used as a pesticide, DNP has become popular with some who want to lose weight rapidly, including those with eating disorders and bodybuilders.

Sold as capsules or tablets, usually online, it is often illegally marketed as a “fat-burning” food supplement to support weight loss or promote health and fitness.

Despite not being suitable for human consumption, 26 people in the UK have died from taking it over the last 12 years.

New research conducted by CensusWide, on behalf of FSS, has found that only 4% of people in Scotland surveyed have heard about DNP and know what it is.

The survey found that a third (35%) of people in Scotland would buy a food supplement which claimed it could help them lose weight, and the majority (55%) would buy a food supplement marketed as a health and fitness product.

The possession of DNP – which is classified as an explosive under UN regulations and the UK’s 2014 Explosives Act - for legitimate industrial purposes is allowed.

But it is used as an industrial chemical in pesticides and explosives, and taking it can cause the body to ‘overheat’, with side effects ranging from nausea and vomiting, to rapid or irregular heartbeat, and in some cases it can result in coma or death.

The survey also found that once aware of what DNP is and aware that it can be fatal, 95% of respondents said they would not take it.

Ron McNaughton, Head of The Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit, said: “Our survey shows a significant amount of the people in Scotland are unaware of this deadly substance, which is marketed illegally as a ‘fat burner’, and the majority would purchase or take a supplement marketed to help them lose weight or promote health and fitness.

“Also more worryingly, 5% of respondents would still risk taking DNP even knowing it could kill them.

“Food Standards Scotland are here to make sure that Scotland’s health is protected when it comes to food and food supplements. People in Scotland need to be aware of the dangers of DNP. It’s not safe for human consumption under any circumstances. We are concerned people may be at risk of serious consequences if they believe their weight-loss supplement is safe, but don’t know what’s in it and can’t verify its origin.”

He added: “It’s vital that no one puts themselves at risk by taking DNP. If you suspect you’ve been sold a product containing DNP or have any information about it being sold, then please do not take it.”

Anyone in this position is asked to report it anonymously via he Scottish Food Crime Hotline in partnership with Crimestoppers on 0800 028 7926 or through the online form on the FSS website.

Mr McNaughton added: “Anyone who believes they may have taken DNP should seek medical advice immediately.”

In 2015, Fiona Parry called for a clampdown on websites selling DNP, following the death of her daughter, Eloise, a former Glasgow University student who passed away within hours of taking eight tablets in April of that year.

The 21-year-old became “psychologically addicted” to the pills after suffering from bulimia and borderline personality disorder.

She died at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital in 2015, less than three months after she first started taking DNP.

Ms Parry, of Shrewsbury, urged others not to be tempted into using DNP, saying: “I would very much like to see much harsher and stiffer penalties for distributing and supplying this substance. Looking good should never cost you your health or your life.”

She said if the drug had been banned, her daughter “would have taken more seriously the warnings about how dangerous it was”.

Urging others not to be tempted into using DNP, Ms Parry went on: “If somebody as capable as her can make that mistake it really worries me that other people will.

“So I want people to know how much it cost her, in the hope they will realise how serious those warnings are.”

On Thursday, Bernard Rebelo, 31, of Gosport, Hants, who sold Ms Parry the toxic pills, learned he faces a further wait to find out if his convictions will be overturned.

He was jailed for seven years in June last year for two counts of manslaughter of Ms Parry.

His lawyers asked London’s Court of Appeal to quash both counts and not order a retrial, arguing that he should not have faced two manslaughter charges and that his double conviction means others could face similar charges in future cases.

Although Rebelo had denied the charges, he admitted selling the pills to Miss Parry, but said there was a warning on his website.

A judgement on his appeal will be made at a later date.