Study reveals high acrylamide levels

16 Mar 2017

Ten percent of biscuits for infants and young children surveyed on sale in the UK have high levels of acrylamide, a known carcinogen, reveals a new study commissioned by the Changing Markets Foundation.

Study reveals high acrylamide levels

Ten percent of biscuits for infants and young children surveyed on sale in the UK have high levels of acrylamide, a known carcinogen, reveals a new study.

The survey, commissioned by the Changing Markets Foundation, analysed 48 types of biscuits for infants and young children in the UK, including well-known brands Little Dish and Ella’s Kitchen. The highest levels of acrylamide were found in a sample of Little Dish biscuits for one year-olds; these were found to contain a concentration of 924.4 µg/kg, almost five times above the European benchmark and 30 times higher than products with the lowest concentration.

Exposure of babies and young children to acrylamide is considered of particular concern by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) the organisation notes; a recent study from the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) concluded that people in the UK currently consume higher levels of the chemical than is desirable and that the risk of cancer from acrylamide exposure is three times higher in infants than in adults.

In total, four samples of similar products from the brand Little Dish exceeded the recommended EU benchmark (200µg/kg) while one sample from Ella’s Kitchen came close to it. Changing Markets and SumOfUs’ survey of baby biscuits in France found only one product - Nestlé brand – that had levels higher than the benchmark. Similar products sold in Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Bulgaria were recently recalled from the market for having levels of acrylamide at 1020 µg/kg [3].

The findings come just six months after the FSA published its own monitoring results showing 29 products exceeding the recommended acrylamide benchmarks, including three types of baby foods. The FSA recently launched the Go for Gold campaign, focused on recommendations on how to reduce acrylamide levels through home cooking.

“While it is important not to burn your toast, the FSA seems to be shying away from taking a tougher stance on the food industry, where significant reductions of acrylamide are possible,” said Nabil Berbour, senior campaigner at SumOfUs, a global consumer watchdog whose petition asking the EU Commission to set legally binding maximum levels of acrylamide in food has gathered more than 229.000 signatures. “We mustn’t forget that acrylamide exposure from home-cooked food is considered relatively small when compared with industrially or restaurant-prepared foods.”

The presence of acrylamide, which is formed when starchy foods are heated up, can be significantly minimised by food business operators through the application of different measures, the organisation notes, as confirmed by those samples with undetectable levels of acrylamide. Nevertheless, it believes, many food operators are still unaware of acrylamide or unwilling to take measures to reduce the levels due to a lack of mandatory legal limits.

In response to this, Changing Markets Foundation points out that a legislative proposal on acrylamide in food is currently being discussed by the European Commission and Member States. This proposal has, it says, been heavily criticised by food safety and consumer protection groups because it fails to introduce maximum legal limits for acrylamide, which is the approach taken on other contaminants in EU law. Such a weak proposal will prolong the status quo, the organisation claims, where companies can continue to sell their products even when these are found to have high levels of acrylamide. The vote on the draft proposal is expected in June.

“It is a shame that the Food Standards Agency continues to support a weak EU proposal, which will prolong the current ineffective industry self-regulation,” said Nuša Urbančič, campaigns director at Changing Markets. “With this stance the FSA is passing the hot potato from the industry to the consumers, while it is becoming clearer that industrial foods with high levels of acrylamide are not an isolated case.”