Newly proposed EU rules on an obscure carcinogen found in everything from chips to coffee have sparked a battle between health campaigners and lobbyists representing companies such as McDonald’s and Burger King.
At the heart of the standoff are the targets proposed by the European Commission on how much acrylamide is acceptable in foods such as French fries, potato chips, bread, cereals and even gingerbread men. Acrylamide is formed when starchy ingredients are cooked above 120°C, in the same chemical process that browns food.
The European Commission is drawing up its acrylamide proposals after the European Food Safety Authority in 2015 reported that the chemical could damage DNA and cause cancer. However, EFSA cautioned that studies on whether dietary exposure causes cancer in humans were “limited and inconclusive.”
According to the draft regulation seen by POLITICO, companies will be asked to respect voluntarily so-called “indicative values” for acrylamide in food. In many cases these values are much higher than the levels of acrylamide already discovered in food during tests conducted by national authorities and industry, sparking accusations from activists that Brussels has been excessively generous.
For example, the Commission puts its upper acrylamide value for imitation coffees at 2,000 micrograms per kilogram, while the average level reported by member states was only 510 μg/kg. The Commission’s target maximum for bran and whole grain breakfast cereals is 400 μg/kg, whereas the mean amount recorded by member states was just 164 μg/kg.
Food safety advocates such as Safe Food Advocacy Europe and Corporate European Observatory insist that the Commission’s targets are far too high and protest that they are non-binding. The industry retorts that there is little proof to show the level of acrylamide found in food in the EU is even a health concern.
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