Sunday, April 21, 2013

The old acrylamide scare never seems to go away

It was big in California eight years ago so I suppose it was due to hit Britain about now.  Debunked here

Raised levels of a chemical linked to cancer have been found in a range of foods from KFC meals to breakfast cereals.  Food watchdogs identified the increased quantities of acrylamide in 14 popular products.

The chemical is formed when foods are roasted, toasted or fried at very high temperatures.

Scientists say it is potentially carcinogenic if consumed regularly over a lifetime.

The Food Standards Agency tested 300 products to understand the scale of the problem.

The largest amount was found in crisps, including a number of expensive brands such as Burts Sea Salted crisps.

There were also raised levels in Tesco ready salted crisps, Tayto cheese and onion crisps, Seabrook Sea Salted crisps, Pipers Anglesey sea salt crisps and the Co-op’s Sea Salt and Chardonnay crisps.

Manufacturers suggested the problem was caused by last year’s bad weather which changed sugar levels in potatoes, which in turn created more acrylamide.

In terms of take-out food, raised levels were found in a sample of KFC fries bought at a restaurant in Congleton, Cheshire, and a fish and chip shop in the town.

Breakfast cereals containing bran, which is cooked at a particularly high temperature, also contained more acrylamide.

Raised levels were found in Tesco bran flakes, Sainsbury’s wholegrain bran flakes, the Co-op’s wheat bran flakes and puffed wheat sold by the Good Grain Company.

Higher than expected levels were also found in Fox’s Ginger biscuits and TUC biscuits.

The FSA stresses it does not consider the levels of the chemical found to be dangerous, however it is keen that they are brought down as a precautionary measure.

A spokesman said: ‘We will work with the relevant local authority to encourage food manufacturers to review their acrylamide reduction strategies.’

The watchdog said there is no need for the public to give up the foods named in its survey, however it gave advice on how people can reduce exposure.

This includes cooking chips only to a light golden colour while advising that ‘bread should be toasted to the lightest colour acceptable’.

It said manufacturers’ instructions for frying or oven-heating foods, such as chips, should be  followed carefully.

KFC said it has contacted all of its outlets to ensure cooking methods are designed to guarantee low acrylamide levels.  It added: ‘We believe that this  was a one–off anomalous result as the levels in every other test carried out on KFC fries were significantly lower.’

Burt’s said the wet weather had changed the character of potatoes to create higher levels of the unwanted chemical.

As a result, it is switching to new varieties that should reduce the level and is improving its  sorting process to remove overcooked crisps.

Tesco said: ‘Food safety is incredibly important to us, and we are working closely with our suppliers to ensure all acrylamide levels are below the recommended indicative value.’


Let British farms grow GM food, says PM's personal scientific adviser: Top adviser backs calls to relax rules on crops

Calls to relax the rules on GM crops were backed yesterday by the nation’s chief scientist.  Sir Mark Walport said the rise of genetically modified food was ‘inexorable’ and there was a ‘strong case’ for it to be grown in Britain.

So far biotech firms have been deterred from growing GM crops in Europe by the tightest controls in the world.

But controversially Sir Mark, who is David Cameron’s personal scientific adviser, said the food was proving its worth and production is increasing globally.

‘It is inexorably rising up the agenda again because as a technology it is showing its value more and more, obviously in terms of the crops that are able to feed the world,’ he added.

‘The job of a scientific adviser is to set out the scientific case and that scientific case is becoming stronger and stronger.’

But Peter Riley, of campaign group GM Freeze, said: ‘The public remains extremely sceptical about the safety of GM foods and the benefits that are said to come from them.

Politicians and scientific leaders need to look at other food options that do not come with such a large risk.

‘The push for GM is being orchestrated by large industry rather than in the interest of the consumer or public health.’

Sir Mark said it was his ‘job to advise on the science and it is then the politician’s job to decide how to use that ... The final decision is a political decision’.

His comments – in his first public speech in the job – are the latest indication that the GM lobby is rapidly gaining influence after years of public hostility.

Earlier this month, four major supermarkets ended bans on farm suppliers giving GM feed to animals producing meat, milk and eggs.

The vast majority of those foods sold in Britain will now come from animals raised on a GM diet.

However, a survey by the Food Standards Agency last year found two in three people believe food from animals given a GM diet should be described as such.

And a British Science Association study showed public support for so-called Frankenstein Foods declining from 46 per cent in 2002 to just 27 per cent now.

Campaign groups have also raised concerns over ministers’ secret meetings with GM lobby groups – details of which emerged only following freedom of information requests.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson last year came out as keen proponent of GM crops, dismissing consumer fears as ‘humbug’.

And, days ago, scientists called on ministers to back technology which could produce genetically modified salmon, pigs and cattle.

Speaking after his address to the University of Cambridge’s centre for science and policy’s annual conference, Sir Mark said GM crops could provide important potential benefits for food production.

He added: ‘For every genetic modification you have to ask what plant, what gene and for what purpose. The case will be strong for some and not strong for others. Each case has be decided on its merits.’

Asked for examples of crops that would benefit British farming, Sir Mark said: ‘If it were possible for instance to develop a blight-resistant potato, then that would be a valuable thing to do.’

He also said that ‘golden rice’ –genetically modified rice that contains higher levels of vitamin A to reduce blindness and other diseases in the developing world – had ‘been around for some time’.

Biotech firms such as Monsanto have ensured that 80 per cent of the soya grown in the US and Brazil is GM.

It is one of the reasons why British supermarkets have now been forced to allow GM-fed produce into the food chain.

The first GM meat and fish could also go on sale this summer. Authorities in the US are expected to grant approval to Aquabounty salmon, which has been modified to grow twice as fast as normal.


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