Baby food, biscuits linked to cancer
*U.K. watchdog issues alerts for 25 big brands after claiming that crunchy roast potatoes, toast could cause the disease
Tests on best-selling crisps, biscuits and baby food showed raised levels of a chemical linked to cancer.The health alert comes just 24 hours after an official watchdog warned of the risks of eating burnt toast and roast potatoes.
The latest products on the danger list include Kettle Chips, Burts crisps, Hovis, Fox’s biscuits, Kenco coffee, McVitie’s and products from Cow & Gate.According to the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency (FSA), 25 products have raised levels of acrylamide.
Animal studies suggest the chemical can trigger Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material mutations and cancer.The link to acrylamide was also behind the warning over fried, roasted and toasted foods such as potatoes and bread.
The agency cautioned that any risk to humans related to lifetime consumption and not occasional eating. However a renowned statistician yesterday insisted the link to cancer in humans from acrylamide was extremely weak.
“There is no good evidence of harm from humans consuming acrylamide in their diet,” said Prof. David Spiegelhalter.The FSA and other watchdogs in Europe test supermarket food to assess whether acrylamide levels are above a suggested limit – IV, for indicative value.
Of 526 products in targeted tests in 2014 and 2015, 25 had raised levels. Although the agency is not advising consumers to stop eating the products, the manufacturers have been told to cut the levels.
The FSA said: “For all of these samples we followed up with the manufacturers or brand owners via local authority inspectors. “They alerted them to the findings and requested information about what is being done to control acrylamide in those products.
“We would emphasise though that the indicative values are not legal maximum limits nor are they safety levels. “They are performance indicators and designed to promote best practice in controlling acrylamide levels.”
Helen Munday of the Food and Drink Federation, which speaks for the manufacturers, said: “Food companies have been lowering acrylamide in UK-made products for years.
“The FSA report provides a useful snapshot of acrylamide levels in a wide range of foods. “At the time of surveying these products, up to three years ago in some cases, any individual foods found to contain levels of acrylamide above indicative values would have prompted a review by both FSA and the brand owner.
“UK food manufacturers have been working with supply chain partners, regulators and other bodies, at home and abroad, to lower acrylamide levels for years.“To continue to make progress, the food and drink industry, in partnership with the European Commission, has developed detailed codes of practice.”
Cow & Gate said: “We take food safety extremely seriously and have been working hard to reduce acrylamide levels. “In fact, in 2015 we took the decision to discontinue Sunny Start Baby Wheat Flakes as we were unable to reduce the level sufficiently.”
The statement said a spaghetti bolognese failure was expected to be a “one-off result”.M&S said all the products highlighted in the research had since been shown to have low levels of the chemical.
Acrylamide has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as “probably carcinogenic in humans’ and the World Health Organisation has concluded that exposure to the chemical in food ‘indicates a human health concern”.
Spiegelhalter said: “Adults with the highest consumption of acrylamide could consume 160 times as much and still only be at a level that toxicologists think unlikely to cause increased tumours in mice.
“People may just consider this yet another scare story from scientists, and lead them to dismiss truly important warnings about, say, the harms from obesity. To be honest, I am not convinced it is appropriate to launch a public campaign on this basis.”
However Steve Wearne, the FSA’s policy director, said: “All age groups have more acrylamide in their diet than we would ideally want. “As a general rule of thumb when roasting or toasting, people should aim for a golden yellow colour, possibly a bit lighter, when cooking starchy foods like potatoes.”
Why is the Food Standards Agency so keen to frighten us off crispy roasties and toast that is well done? Apparently because of a potential cancer risk from acrylamide, a chemical that is created by cooking starchy foods at high temperatures – the longer and hotter such foods are cooked the more acrylamide forms.
But hang on, what does potential risk mean here? All sorts of chemicals might potentially cause cancer, but the risks are so small and vague that no one can tell either way.
The experts at Cancer Research UK say that the evidence for any link between acrylamide from burnt food and cancer is at best only weak and inconsistent.
And here’s the clincher: the charity points out that: “Even food industry workers, who are exposed to twice as much acrylamide as other people, do not have higher rates of cancer.”
So why would the FSA apparently want to scare people unnecessarily? Well, it makes people think that the FSA is doing something useful to protect our health.
After its initial announcement, the FSA not-so-helpfully clarified that it wasn’t telling people to avoid roast potatoes altogether – just to make them aware of the risk and how to reduce it.
On a section of its website devoted to its latest campaign, it advised people to “check for cooking instructions on the pack and follow carefully when frying or oven-cooking packaged food products such as chips, roast potatoes and parsnips. This ensures that you aren’t cooking starchy foods for too long or at temperatures which are too high”.