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Content example: FOOD SCARE - ACRYLAMIDE

Acrylamide is a known cancer causing agent (IARC Summary).

In 2002, Swedish researchers found that there were unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide in a lot of familiar foods. Similar findings have been made in the UK, Switzerland, Norway and now US and elsewhere. Acrylamide in fast-food French fries is 300 X more than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows in a glass of water.

Acrylamide is a chemical produced by cooking practices, such as baking or frying. It is also likely to be produced by grilling and roasting food. In particular, starchy foods such as potato and cereal products which have been deepfried, roasted or baked at high temperatures are most affected. Coffee has also been found to have high acrylamide levels. Latest developments from Insititute of Food Science & Technology

Acrylamide is used commercially as a building block for polymers called polyacrylamides (PAMs). These are used in water purification, in irrigation water to improve soil texture, and in pesticide formulations to limit spray drift. Do these sources also contaminate food?

Health risks
The evidence of carcinogenicity is from a variety of animal and cell tests. According to the UK Food Standards Agency "these observations lead to the conclusion that acrylamide is a genotoxic carcinogen, for which it is not possible to identify a safe level of exposure. Some risk should be assumed, albeit small, even at very low levels of exposure." (FSA Press Briefing pdf)

Yet the UK independent Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC) does not consider it valid to calculate numbers of anticipated human cancer cases from the results of animal studies. The COC decided that "such calculations give an impression of precision, which cannot be justified from the assumptions made relating to the biological events leading to cancer and the different nature of exposure. In fact, different methods of calculating risk can lead to estimates that differ by several orders of magnitude." (FSA 'Your questions answered'). This is a curious positon as it implies that animal studies are not predictive - yet they are the basis for predicting safety of pesticides and additives.

Edgar Schoemig, a leading pharmocologist from Cologne University, calculates that acrylamide may be inducing up to 10,000 more cases of cancer a year in Germany. A questionnaire to Swedish cancer patients and a control group did not find an association between estimated acrylamide consumption and cancer of the large bowel, kidney, and bladder. Brit Journal of Cancer

Who is doing what
The FAO and WHO advise consumers that food should not be cooked excessively--for too long or at too high a temperature. They have set up an international network on acrylamide in food inviting all interested parties to share relevant data. Find @ Acrylamide Infonet

The EU is coodinating several inititiatives in the EU . For more on

The FSA welcomed the initiative to create a network of international research bodies. It is not advising people to stop eating any of the foods sampled in their tests. The FSA advises that as part of a balanced diet you should limit the amount of fried and fatty foods you eat, including chips and crisps. More on FSA & Acrylamide

German food processors have agreed to cook chips at the reduced frying temperature of 175C (347F) and baking to between 356-374 degrees F. More There have been over a 1000 raids on snack food bars to check cooking temperatures. A national TV broadcast publicised recommendations from Prof Soergel that pregnant mothers should sharply limit or cease eating chips and crisps. More.

The Food and Drug Administration has produced an Action Plan for Acrylamide in Food.

The State is proposing to make it compulsory for products that might contain acrylamide to carry warning labels. More

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