Food Agency Urged to Limit Cancer-Causing Substance

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acrylamide in fried foodJan. 2 (Bloomberg) -- A consumer group said U.S. food regulators have backed away from plans to limit a cancer-causing byproduct that forms during the baking or frying of foods, including products from PepsiCo Inc., the largest U.S. maker of salty snacks.

The group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, based in Washington, sent a letter to U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach on Dec. 1, urging him to follow through on agency promises to limit acrylamide. Swedish scientists discovered in 2002 that the substance develops in carbohydrate-rich foods, such as potatoes and breakfast cereals.

After initially reporting variations in acrylamide levels in branded products within the same food categories, the FDA has stopped publishing the information, and food makers refuse to provide it to the public, said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center. He said the FDA isn't reporting test results or setting limits.

"This is clearly an anti-regulatory administration that does not want to inconvenience industry, and the acrylamide situation is a classic case," Jacobson said in a telephone interview today. "Here's a chemical that is considered a likely human carcinogen. The World Health Organization has expressed grave concerns about it, and the FDA has expressed concerns, but the agency won't act."

Standard Procedures

The regulatory agency will handle Jacobson's request according to standard procedures, said an FDA spokeswoman, Julie Zawisza.

"FDA is conducting research studies to determine whether the very low levels of acrylamide found in food pose a health risk to consumers," she said in an e-mail today. "We have already done extensive sampling to make this determination on exposure. We don't believe additional sampling will inform our exposure assessment significantly."

Aurora Gonzalez, a spokeswoman at Purchase, New York- based PepsiCo, said she had no comment on the Center's petition. Sales of Frito-Lay snacks in North America reached $10.3 billion in 2005. The company has 32 snack- making plants, which account for one-third of PepsiCo sales.

Acrylamide forms as a byproduct of high-temperature baking, frying or roasting when an amino acid present in the food has a chemical reaction with sugars in the food, according to the FDA's Web site. Not enough is known about the reaction to allow scientists to devise methods to prevent it. the agency said.

Studies of the substance in animals showed that acrylamide is a potential cause of cancer and damage to genetic material, the FDA said. The substance also can poison the human nervous system, according to the agency.

source - Bloomberg