Acrylamide Advice: Don’t Burn Your Toast | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 06.12.2002
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Acrylamide Advice: Don’t Burn Your Toast

Publishing the results of nationwide Acrylamide tests, the German government and food industry has admitted that cancer-causing chemical is a problem to be taken seriously.


The chips are down for fried foods

Bad news for the holiday season: some of Germany’s best-loved baked goods contain the potentially cancer-causing toxin Acrylamide, according to new research published by the government this week.

Around 1,000 products and foodstuffs were tested for levels of the chemical, discovered by Swedish scientists to be a natural by-product when starchy foods are fried, roasted or baked at high temperatures.

Initially, both the German government and food industry were skeptical of the claims, made in April this year. But along with the 32 products in Germany initially found to contain Acrylamide, a further 73 products have been determined to also contain the substance.

The government has quickly changed its tack, announcing Thursday that it will work with food producers to change recipes and production processes to sink the levels of Acrylamide in line with EU suggestions.

Under the new initiative, the government intends to work with food producers to change recipes and production processes to sink the levels of Acrylamide as soon and as quickly as possible.

German State Secretary for Consumer Affairs, Alexander Müller said in a statement published Tuesday that although some firms had already made good progress in reducing levels of the chemical, “a large proportion of the producers affected, are hesitating to undertake the concrete steps towards reducing Acrylamide content in their products."

Plastic killer

Acrylamide – a chemical used to make polyacrylamide products such as glues, paper and cosmetics is already proven to cause cancer in animals, although whether the same applies to humans is not yet known for definite.

Following the initial Swedish findings in April, tests in Britain, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA and Canada confirmed that foods high in starch and fried, roasted or baked at high temperatures contained the plastic substance.

Some of the classic culprits are French fries, potato chips and crackers. But new results show that popcorn, pretzel sticks, even roasted onions, cornflakes, crisp bread, coffee powder and German Christmas baked specialities, "Spekulatius" and "Lebkucken" also contain Acrylamide.

Though the precise temperature at which the chemical is produced during cooking has yet to be determined, current thinking is that starchy food cooked at 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Farenheit) or above will produce Acrylamide.

Though Acrylamide levels vary dramatically, the rule of thumb is the ‘darker’ a piece of food is, the higher the level of Acrylamide it will contain, German consumer minister, Renate Künast said on German television Thursday.

"The motto is: don't burn it", she told viewers of the ARD Morgenmagazin.

Consumer groups blame government

Consumer groups say that the government is not doing enough to protect its citzens. There is no Federal law requiring manufacturers to inform consumers whether their products contain Acrylamide. An attempt to push through a new consumer information law failed in the last legislative period.

The only state to publish the names of the producers along with the levels of Acrylamide found in their products was North Rhine Westphalia – where such a law already exists.

“The levels of Acrylamide in crisp bread, for example, vary intensely," Carsten Direske spokesperson for Foodwatch, a German food and consumer protection organization, told DW WORLD. “Consumers should be able to inform themselves about the risks they are posing to themselves."

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