The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should require food manufacturers to limit the amount of the potential carcinogen acrylamide in their products, said the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit US organisation, this week in the first call of this type to US food manufacturers. Acrylamide, found in certain carbohydrate-rich foods cooked at very high temperatures, hit the headlines last year when Swedish researchers revealed its presence in food.
The CSPI petitioned the agency to set 'interim acceptable levels' for the chemical, a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. The CSPI told the FDA that the median level of acrylamide observed in a category of food - 77 ppb in the case of frozen French fries - should be set as an interim acceptable level. Manufacturers producing fries at the higher levels should be required to reduce them to 77 ppb or less.
"Acrylamide is a powerful carcinogen and is definitely something one wants less of in food," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson at a news conference in Washington, D.C. this week. Adding that although some food processors are able to make food with much less acrylamide than others, the FDA should require those manufacturers that are at the high end of the scale to bring their acrylamide levels down to that of many of their competitors.
Since the Swedish discovery in April last year, national governments, the FDA, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and food companies have measured acrylamide levels in a wide variety of foods - such as crisps, french fries and coffee - and begun to investigate ways to reduce levels of the chemical. Researchers earlier this year found that acrylamide is formed when glucose reacts at high temperatures with asparagine, an amino acid.
In its petition, the CSPI suggested that acrylamide in foods could account for several thousand cancers per year in the US, although the amount could be higher or lower depending on the difference in acrylamide's potency between animals and humans.
"Acrylamide probably causes on the order of a thousand new cases of cancer per year in the United States, perhaps as many as several thousand. That's certainly not as many cases as tobacco, but certainly enough to warrant the FDA's taking action to reduce acrylamide in food," said Dale Hattis, a risk-assessment expert at Clark university in the US who joined Jacobson at the news conference.