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US consumer groups seek cancer warning labels

01-Oct-2002

US consumer groups are demanding immediate action from the government to inform consumers that popular foods such as fried potatoes and crisps contain high levels of a potential carcinogen, according to a report in the Financial Times.

"The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to give us more guidance, and that may mean labelling products linked to cancer-causing agents," said the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a leading health advocacy group.

A series of scientific reports highlighting the potential carcinogenic contents of some fried foods has led the FDA to host a public meeting to address growing concerns about the cancer risk such foods may contain. Separate reports released yesterday by the journal Nature show how high cooking temperatures, particularly common to fried and fast cook foods, triggered reactions between amino acids and sugars, creating potentially dangerous amounts of the toxin acrylamide.

"This will have a profound impact on the world's food industry,"</> said Richard Stadler, an author of one of the reports and a scientist at the Nestle Research Centre. Scientists believe that the cancer threat is at its greatest from foods such as French fries and potato chips.

In April, Swedish researchers reported finding worrying amounts of the chemical acrylamide in fried and baked carbohydrates. Since then, the findings have been confirmed by scientists in Norway, the UK and Switzerland.

The official warning from bodies such as the FDA is that consumers should try to avoid consuming large amounts of fries and crisps because of their high fat and salt content. It is widely believed that the next logical step is to ensure that industry-wide labelling of known potential carcinogens is contained on all food packaging.

Scientists have also found acrylamide in foods generally considered healthy, such as bread (particularly in the crust), and breakfast cereals such as cornflakes, though levels in these foods are up to 90 per cent lower than in fries and crisps.

In Europe food manufacturers, research centres and government scientists are seeking more information on the presence of acrylamide in cooked foods, but so far no European consumer body has made any official comment on the matter.

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