ESA on acrylamide safety concerns: 'We’ll be seeking clarity and clear categorization'

Don't 'lump' potato chips in with French fries, the European Snack Association (ESA) is to urge in a public consultation on EFSA's acrylamide draft opinion.

The European Snack Association (ESA) says it welcomes EFSA’s recent draft opinion on acrylamide in food, but will push for greater clarity on safe levels and product categorization in the final document due in September.

ESA said it would be contributing to the public consultancy for the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) draft, which said dietary intake of acrylamide may increase consumers' risk of developing cancer. The EFSA opinion was based on animal research and collected food samples.

Acrylamide is a chemical produced in cooking at temperatures above 120°C when foods ‘brown’, particularly those containing amino acid asparagine and reducing sugars. EFSA identified coffee, fried potato products, biscuits, crackers and crisp breads, soft bread and certain baby foods as key dietary sources of acrylamide, with children being the most exposed.

In the public consultation, set to conclude September 15, ESA director general Sebastian Emig said the trade association would be requesting greater clarification on these groupings – saying he was “a bit concerned” potato chips were “being lumped in together” with all fried potato products.

The snacks industry was hoping for the most precise safe levels possible, something the sector has worked hard to tackle. ESA welcomed that the opinion recognised a “downward reduction” of acrylamide levels following training and toolboxes from the likes of FoodDrinkEurope

Clarity and categories

However Emig said the association and its members – which covered about 80% of the European snacks market with a combined retail value of about €14 bn ($19.04 bn) in 2013 – were concerned about the draft opinion’s categorization and wording of products and food groups.

He said the challenges facing other fried potato foods, such as French fries, may not be the same as those facing chip manufacturers. “We don’t want to be lumped together, we want to be separate.”

The opinion also flicked between terms ‘chips’ and ‘crisps’, which mean different things in different countries.

Emig said ESA would be suggesting that these issues be “clearly distinguished” in the final draft.

Safe levels

He said the industry wanted precision when it came to safe, or unsafe, levels, although available data was limited. The food industry was already funding research in this area and the ESA said the latest opinion would further push the issue, “high on the agenda”.

In its draft opinion, the EFSA panel said that it was inappropriate to establish a Tolerable Daily Intake for acrylamide.

No-go on zero

Emig said although the snack industry was working hard to bring levels down, “one thing is clear, a full zero will never be possible”.

But in the process of getting as “close as possible” to zero, EU member states and industry must look at refining agronomic factors which could affect acrylamide levels in line with “farm to fork” ideals.  

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