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Scientists Link Consumption of Chemical Found in French Fries & Other Junk Foods to Cancer

From: Environmental News Service <> March 7, 2005

Food Experts Link Fried Potatoes With Cancer

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 7, 2005 (ENS) - The chemical acrylamide formed
unintentionally when starchy foods such as potato chips are cooked may be of
public heath concern since it has been shown to cause cancer in animals, an
international expert panel said Friday.

A summary report released by a Joint Expert Committee of the World Health
Organization (WHO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - a
committee of 35 experts from 15 countries - called for continued efforts to
reduce acrylamide in food.

The committee met from February 8 - 17 to consider the possible health
risks associated with acrylamide and five other food contaminants. The
committee concluded that, on the basis of the tests in animals, cancer was
the most important toxic effect of acrylamide and that consumption of foods
with this contaminant at current levels of occurrence may be a public health

The conclusion was based on a conservative evaluation, according to the
committee, which noted that there is still considerable uncertainty about
the mechanism of the toxicity of acrylamide, assumptions used to compare the
most relevant animal data to the human situation, and extrapolation of the
intake assessments.

The neurotoxicity of acrylamide in humans is known from instances of high
occupational and accidental exposure when acrylamide is used in industrial
processes in the production of plastics and materials. Studies in animals
have also shown that acrylamide causes reproductive problems and cancer.

In 2002, Swedish studies showed for the first time the formation of
relatively high levels of acrylamide during the frying or baking of potatoes
and cereal products at temperatures higher than 120 degrees Celsius or 248
degrees Fahrenheit.

Acrylamide is formed when plant-based foods that are rich in carbohydrates
and low in protein, are cooked at high temperatures such as in frying,
roasting or baking.

The major foods contributing to acrylamide exposure in countries for which
data were available are potato chips and crisps, coffee, cereal-based
products such as pastries and sweet biscuits, breads, rolls and toast.

The amount of acrylamide can vary dramatically in the same foods depending
on several factors, including cooking temperature and time. Because of this,
experts on the committee said that it was not possible to issue
recommendations on how much of any specific food containing the substance is
safe to eat.

Preliminary investigations by industry and other researchers seem to
suggest that significant reductions are currently feasible in several foods,
the committee said.

The knowledge gained should help in developing guidance for home-prepared
foods. The latest information available on acrylamide reinforces general
advice on healthy eating, the committee said. Consumers should continue to
eat balanced and varied diets, which include plenty of fruit and vegetables,
and to moderate their consumption of fried and fatty foods.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.