The actual levels, and the full list of affected foods, will be decided later this year in discussions following the adoption of the regulatory measure currently being proposed: compulsory measures to reduce the risk of acrylamide forming in food, and use of benchmark levels to verify their efficacy.
With these envisaged regulatory measures in place, “the EU shall have the strictest regulation [on acrylamide] worldwide”, the director of the EU’s Food and Feed Safety and Innovation Unit, Sabine Juelicher, told members of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety(ENVI).
Acrylamide, a chemical contaminant that is known to increase the risk of cancer, forms naturally when starchy foods are fried or roasted and occurs both in home cooking and during industrial food processing.
Fried potatoes, coffee and coffee substitutes and cereal-based foods such as biscuits are the biggest contributors to Europeans’ intake, and a 2012 scientific opinion by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said exposure was as a concern across all age groups. Infants, however, are the most exposed to the contaminant per kilo body weight.
A spokesperson for industry lobby FoodDrinkEurope told us it was waiting for the official publication of the Commission’s proposal before commenting on the levels.
Juelicher stressed that the Commission’s work was still evolving.
Mandatory mitigation measures
The mandatory mitigation measures will require food business operators to evaluate risk of acrylamide formation for their products; devise measures to reduce the risk; monitor their own systems and present samples for analysis.
Official controls and analyses will also be carried out.
Benchmark levels – “set at a very strict level taking into account the most recent data which we have in the EFSA database” – will be used to assess the efficacy of the mitigation measures.
The mitigation measures will take into account the size and nature of each business in question.
“All in all, the Commission is convinced that the envisaged measures shall really result in an effective reduction of the presence of acrylamide in food,” she said at the exchange of views which took place on 31 January.
“We are really looking at a comprehensive overall package of initiatives,” she said.
Awareness campaigns by member state agencies and consumer organisations also had an important part to play in educating consumers as home cooking contributed “in significant part” to acrylamide intake, she added.
Legal foundations ‘make sense’
Several MEPs probed Juelicher on the Commission’s choice of hygiene regulation as the legal basis for drafting legislation on acrylamide, rather than EU regulation on contaminants in food.
MEPs and public concern groups had previously suggested such legal foundations were shaky, meaning any regulation passed would not comply with higher-ranking law.
Juliche responded by saying it made sense because the hygiene regulation requires industry to take responsibility for the safety of its own products.
The binding maximum levels for certain foods, however, would be founded on the relevant regulation for chemical contaminants.
Using these two different regulations reflected the complexity of the issue. “It’s not a technical contaminant we can ban,” she said, adding that it required applying best practice techniques to food processing as well as selecting certain raw materials and using specific storage techniques.