Reuters April 24, 2002 04:49 PM ET
Swedish Study of Food and Cancer Rings Alarm Bells
Reuters April 24, 2002 04:49 PM ET
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists do not know what impact foods containing high levels of acrylamide have on health but the food industry must minimize amounts of the known animal carcinogen in their products, a leading expert said on Wednesday.
Swedish researchers sparked a worldwide food scare when they released a new study showing acrylamide is formed in very high concentrations when carbohydrate-rich foods such as rice, potatoes and cereals are fried or baked.
"We do not know for sure what the impact on human health of these levels of acrylamide in food is, but because it is a known animal carcinogen it is advisable that its formation during food preparation or production be minimized," said Professor David Phillips, an expert on cancer-causing agents at Britain's Cancer Research UK charity.
"This is an interesting and important report," he added in a statement.
Experts from Sweden's National Food Administration, a government food safety agency, said potato crisps may contain up to 500 times, and french fries more than 100 times, more acrylamide than level allowed in drinking water by the World Health Organization.
They said the colorless solid compound, which has been produced since the 1950 and is mainly for clarifying drinking water, is formed during the cooking process and could explain some of the cancers caused by food. Boiling the same food products did not form acrylamide, the Swedish study found.
Phillips said it is already known that the "Western diet" high in fat leads of a different spectrum of cancers from those in other parts of the world.
"It is likely that many aspects of our diet, rather than a single culprit, are responsible for this," he added.
Phillips said the advice to consumers is the same -- eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and avoid overcooked or burned food to reduce the risk of cancer.
"For the food industry there is now a responsibility to monitor acrylamide formation in food products and to find ways of minimizing its formation," he added.
The Swedish scientists felt so strongly about their findings that they released their results on Wednesday, ahead of publication in a scientific journal.
Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, an industry trade group representing food, beverage and consumer products companies, said "there is insufficient data that would warrant consumers changing any eating habits."
"This survey has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, which is some indication that we should show some caution before overreacting," Garbowski said.
But Ake Bergman, head of the department of environmental chemistry at Stockholm University, said the research had been submitted and approved for publication in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, published by American Chemical Society.
The results of the study, based on more than 100 random food samples, was released at a news conference but the scientists said the research was not extensive enough for the administration to change current dietary recommendations or to call for the withdrawal of any products from supermarket shelves.
Other scientists and industry officials were reluctant to comment on the findings because they had not seen details of the research.
Leif Busk, the head of the Swedish food administration's research department, said the findings applied worldwide, not only to Sweden, as the food raw materials used in the analyzes had showed no traces of acrylamide.
Swedish authorities had informed the European Commission and EU member countries, Busk said.