Food manufacturers risk falling well short of meeting new EU rules aimed at limiting levels of cancer-causing acrylamide, according to a series of new tests released on Thursday (11 January).
Acrylamide should account for no more than 750 microgrammes per kilogram under a new regulation adopted last September by government ministers and the European Parliament. However, the presence of the chemical was well above the limit in seven out of the 18 samples of crisps sold in Italy subjected to laboratory tests by consumer magazine il Salvagente.
The regulation, which comes into force on 11 April, was supported by both the food industry and consumer groups.
For his part, Belgium’s farm minister Willy Borsus expressed relief that the regulation had spared the nation’s “friteries” and one of its favourite dishes from having to change traditional preparation methods.
However, while the new EU law requires firms to take ‘mitigating measures’ to reduce the chemical’s presence in their products, it does not include a sanctions regime for those who breach the 750 mg benchmark.
The results were quickly leapt on by campaigners as evidence for the European Commission to press ahead with binding maximum limits on acylamide.
“If in January there are companies whose products still have more than 1600 microgrammes (per kilogramme), it is clear that the system is not going to work,” Floriana Cimmarusti, Secretary General of Safe Food Advocacy Europe, told EURACTIV.
“Food manufacturers are very careful when there are legal limits and a risk of fines and intervention,” she added.
Limits on the presence of the chemical in foods aimed at children should be a priority for the Commission, she noted.
“Mandatory targets are the most effective way to protect consumers,” Pauline Constant, Communications Officer for the pan-European consumer group BEUC, told EURACTIV.
“The European Snacks Association welcomes the establishment of benchmark values that go along with the legal obligation to implement so-far voluntary acrylamide mitigation measures,” said Sebastian Emig, Director General of the European Snacks Association.
“Since the detection of acrylamide in certain foods our sector has achieved a decline in mean acrylamide levels over the last 14 years of roughly 50%,” he added.
The Commission has indicated that it was planning to “initiate discussions” on setting maximum levels of acrylamide in certain foods after the new regulation comes into force.
Acrylamide was confirmed as a carcinogen by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2015 and is present in fries, crisps, bread, biscuits or coffee. The chemical naturally forms when starchy food such as potatoes, bread or cereals is baked, fried or roasted at above 120°C. It was first linked to cancer by researchers in 2002.