Acrylamide levels within limits but rules are weak, say campaigners

Levels of acrylamide in food tested across Europe are mostly compliant with legal benchmarks, but campaigners have said the limits are too low.

The EU acrylamide regulation has applied since April 11th 2018. It requires food manufacturers, fast-food chains and restaurants to ensure levels of the substance – which has been shown to increase the risk of developing cancer – remain below benchmarks for certain products. The actions required depend on the nature and size of the business. UKHospitality has produced a guide for operators.

Are the regulations working? Tests of 532 products carried out by consumer groups in 10 European countries (not including the UK) showed that: “Most, if not all, analysed samples of coffee, chicory, breakfast cereals, toasted bread, crackers, ginger bread and French fries were found to be within the acrylamide benchmarks (for instant coffee, however, most samples were very close to the benchmark).”

It wasn’t all good news, though: 13% of the baby food products, 7.7% of the potato crisps and 6.3% of the biscuits for infants and young children were above the benchmarks. In fact, close to two thirds of the biscuits and wafers marketed as “for infants and children” were not compliant with the limits.

Another problem product was vegetable crisps, which don’t fall within the regulations. Levels of acrylamide in these products were found to be double those permitted for potato crisps. “As a benchmark level for acrylamide in vegetable crisps has not yet been established, it is impossible to make a meaningful evaluation of these results,” noted BEUC in a letter to DG Sante detailing the results. But given that vegetable crisps are often marketed as “healthier”, an acrylamide benchmark should be established, the group said.

The campaigners also called for the rules to be extended to croquettes or rösti, croissants and rice crackers. Binding limits must also be set, said BEUC director general Monique Goyens in her letter. “With the setting of legal limits, non-compliant products (i.e. above the limits) would automatically have to be withdrawn from the market. By contrast, under the current rules, control authorities need first to test products against the benchmark values; in case of exceedance, they must investigate the mitigation measures applied by the food business operator and, where they find high acrylamide levels, they must perform arisk assessment to decide what to do with the products (e.g. withdrawal).”

The benchmarks are not legal maximum limits not safety levels, but “performance indicators designed to promote best practice in controlling acrylamide levels”, according to UKHospitality.

BEUC’s letter is available here.

Footprint’s briefing on acrylamide is available here.

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