European consumer organisation pens letter on acrylamide levels

BEUC has highlighted children’s intake of the cancerous substance as a particular problem, recommending lower threshold levels and enforcement

The European consumer organisation BEUC has written a letter calling for the European Commission to lower the amount of acrylamide currently advised in food and make these guidelines binding.

Acrylamide is a chemical that naturally forms when starchy food such as potatoes or cereals is baked, fried or roasted at above 120°C. Lab tests have shown that acrylamide in the diet causes cancer in animals and therefore scientists have concluded it potentially increases the cancer risk for consumers of all ages.

Currently there are threshold levels for how much acrylamide certain foods should contain. However, these are not law and therefore are not enforced.

In its letter, BEUC particularly highlighted children's consumption as its primary concern. The percentage of products found to be at or above recommended levels of acrylamide were significantly higher in the categories of food children are likely to consume. For example, a third of biscuits and wafers tested have levels at or above the threshold.

To compound this problem, a lot of children consume biscuits and wafers that are intended for older children. However, children under the age of three actually have a lower benchmark for the potentially cancerous substance. When taking this lower level into account, almost two-thirds of these products then become unsuitable for young children.

BEUC also requested that the EU Commission come up with benchmarks for vegetable crisps. Tests showed that on average crisps made of carrots, beetroots or parsnips contain almost twice as much acrylamide as the potato versions, although they are often perceived as healthier options.

Commenting on the letter, Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC, said: “This EU-wide test proves that it is possible to produce crisps, chips or cereals with low acrylamide content. But as long as the measures are voluntary, some manufacturers will not take the issue seriously and consumers might still be exposed to high acrylamide levels.”

Acrylamide levels are a rising concern among consumers and businesses alike. Companies are starting to tap into this potential market. Food manufacturer Kerry Taste & Nutrition have developed a yeast product that can reduce acrylamide levels by up to 90%.

Goyens added: “This test also reveals that vegetable crisps are not as healthy as they seem to be. Until binding limits are set, the Commission should at least define indicative benchmarks for acrylamide in these trendy snacks to force producers to minimise the presence of this harmful substance.”