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Swedish Scientists Find Cancer Agent in Staple Foods
Tue Apr 23, 2002

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Scientists in Sweden have found high levels of a substance believed to cause cancer in staple foods eaten by millions of people around the world, such as bread, rice and potatoes, Swedish media reported on Tuesday.

Research carried out by scientists at Stockholm University's department of environmental chemistry showed starch, a carbohydrate found in cereals and potatoes, transforms into acrylamide when heated up, the daily newspaper Expressen reported on its Internet Web site.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies acrylamide, a colorless, crystalline solid, as a medium hazard probable human carcinogen.

Detailed findings of the Stockholm University pilot study would be made public at a news conference on Wednesday called by Sweden's National Food Administration.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, acrylamide induces gene mutations and has been found in animal tests to cause benign and malignant stomach tumors.

It is also known to cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous system. Swedish TV4 television news said the researchers who made the discovery  spoke of "enormous global consequences for food production and consumption."

Expressen quoted Eva Buren, a spokeswoman at leading Swedish supermarket chain ICA, as saying representatives of the company and other big food stores attended a "crisis meeting" on Tuesday at which a list of products which might contain the carcinogen were reviewed.

Buren said Sweden's National Food Administration, whose representatives also attended the meeting, had not decided to remove any products from shelves, the paper said.

Cancer Risk Found in French Fries, Bread
Wed Apr 24,2002

By Peter Starck

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Basic foods eaten by millions around the world such as bread, biscuits, potato chips and french fries contain alarmingly high quantities of acrylamide, a substance believed to cause cancer, Swedish scientists said on Wednesday.

The research carried out at Stockholm University in cooperation with experts at Sweden's National Food Administration, a government food safety agency, showed that heating of carbohydrate-rich foods, such as potatoes, rice or cereals formed acrylamide, a much studied substance classified as a probable human carcinogen.

The research was deemed so important that the scientists decided on the unusual step of going public with their findings before the research had been officially published in an academic journal.

"I have been in this field for 30 years and I have never seen anything like this before," said Leif Busk, head of the food administration's research department.

Findings unveiled at a news conference called by the food administration showed that an ordinary bag of potato chips may contain up to 500 times more of the substance than the top level allowed in drinking water by the World Health Organization.

French fries sold at Swedish franchises of U.S. fast-food chains Burger King Corp and McDonald's contained about 100 times the one microgram per liter maximum permitted by the WHO for drinking water, the study showed.

One milligram, or 0.001 grams, contains 1,000 micrograms.


The Environmental Protection Agency  classifies acrylamide, a colorless, crystalline solid, as a medium hazard probable human carcinogen.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, acrylamide induces gene mutations and has been found in animal tests to cause benign and malignant stomach tumors.

It is also known to cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous system.

"The discovery that acrylamide is formed during the preparation of food, and at high levels, is new knowledge. It may now be possible to explain some of the cases of cancer caused by food," Busk said.

"Fried, oven-baked and deep-fried potato and cereal products may contain high levels of acrylamide," the administration said.

"Acrylamide is formed during the preparation of food and occurs in many foodstuffs...Many of the analyzed foodstuffs are consumed in large quantities, e.g. potato crisps, french fries, fried potatoes, biscuits and bread."

Among products analyzed in the study were potato chips made by Finnish company CHIPS ABP, whose shares fell 14.5 percent to six-month lows, as well as breakfast cereals made by U.S. Kellogg, Quaker Oats Co, part of PepsiCo Inc, and Swiss Nestle, and Old El Paso brand tortilla chips.

"For us, these are completely new findings which have never before been known to the world's foodstuffs industry," CHIPS ABP said in a statement to the Helsinki stock exchange.

Stefan Eriksson, marketing manager Burger King's subsidiary in Sweden, told Reuters by telephone: "We have received the information and we are evaluating what it will mean."

Spokesmen for the other companies mentioned in the research were not immediately available for comment.


Margareta Tornqvist, an associate professor at Stockholm University's department of environmental chemistry, said the consumption of a single potato crisp could take acrylamide intake up to the WHO maximum for drinking water.

Busk said, however, that the product analysis based on more than 100 random samples was not extensive enough for the administration to recommend the withdrawal of any products from supermarket shelves.

"Frying at high temperatures or for a long time should be avoided," Busk said, adding: "Our advice to eat less fat-rich products such as french fries and crisps, remains valid."

He said the findings applied worldwide, not only to Sweden, as the food raw materials used in the analyzes had showed no traces of acrylamide.

Swedish authorities had informed the European Commission  and EU member countries, Busk said.

"It is the first time we have come across such a result. We will evaluate this study and look at it but it is important to say that Sweden has not withdrawn any products from the market," said European Commission spokeswoman Beate Gminder.

"Therefore we'll have to see what the scientific evaluation by our side and by scientists in the member states will bring about," she said.

Liliane Abramsson-Zetterberg, a toxicologist at the Swedish food administration, said: "The cancer risk from acrylamide is much higher than (the levels) we accept for known carcinogens."

But smoking, which is known to cause cancer, remained a bigger risk, she said.

WHO announces urgent meeting on new food cancer scare
Fri Apr 26,2002

GENEVA - The World Health Organization said Friday that it plans to hold an urgent expert meeting in the coming weeks to assess the health risk from a cancer-causing substance which Swedish scientists discovered in high quantities in potato products and other high carbohydrate foods.

The study, released Wednesday, found that the substance known as acrylamide forms in varying levels when carbohydrates are heated in a certain way, such as by frying potatoes or baking bread. Researchers said the discovery could offer a clue about food-related cancers.

"Previous concerns about acrylamide were a result of known human exposure through drinking water and in certain occupations. The Swedish announcement is the first report of the presence of elevated levels of acrylamide in food," said WHO in a statement.

The U.N. health agency said it hoped to hold expert consultations before the end of June to "fill in relevant gaps in knowledge." Although much is known about acrylamide and its effects in animals, there is far less information about its effects on humans.

Among the questions to be resolved is whether acrylamide can be taken up from food as readily as it is from water and how harmful this is, WHO said.

WHO said the Swedish findings did not change basic dietary advice to eat less fat and more fruit and vegetables.

The Swedish scientists studied more than 100 foods bought in stores and restaurants and determined that "fried, oven-baked and deep-fried potato and cereal products may contain high levels of acrylamide."

In 1994, WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer evaluated acrylamide as "probably carcinogenic to humans," based on its effects on experimental animals.

"The few epidemiological studies of acrylamide that were available at that time were inadequate to establish that occupational exposures to acrylamide had increased cancer risks in exposed workers," it said.

U.N. food body urges more research of cancer study
Fri Apr 26, 2002

ROME (Reuters) - The United Nations food body said on Friday it was too early to reach any conclusions from findings by Swedish scientists that carbohydrate-rich foods contain a likely cancer-causing substance.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) urged further international research of the findings which indicate acrylamide, well known as a likely cancer-causing agent, is formed when rice, potatoes and cereals are fried or baked.

"The information available does not allow us to draw conclusions or to make recommendations for consumers or food manufacturers," Manfred Luetzow, FAO's food chemicals expert, said in a statement.

FAO said it had requested access to the details of the "unexpected finding" and welcomed Sweden's proposal for further studies in co-operation with international organisations.

FAO said that while the toxicological effects of acrylamide are well known, Swedish authorities need to explain how and why it is formed when these foods are fried or baked.

Research carried out at Stockholm University with the government food safety agency and released this week showed that potato crisps, French fries, biscuits and bread contain alarmingly high amounts of acrylamide.

The results of the research were deemed so important and surprising that the scientists took the unusual step of going public with their findings before publishing them in an academic journal and having them reviewed by peers.

A top World Health Organisation official told Reuters on Thursday that the findings were worrying but that more research was needed.

FAO's general recommendations for a well-balanced and diverse diet prepared in ways that preserve nutrient content would not need to be changed as a result of the findings, Luetzow added.

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