WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration here participated in an emergency meeting last week convened by the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss reports that acrylamide, a known carcinogen in animals, is present in high levels in some starchy foods cooked at high temperatures.
Twenty-seven food-safety experts from around the world were to examine existing evidence and consider possible recommendations.
The first study, by Swedish scientists announced April 23, implicated carbohydrate foods such as french fries, potato chips and cereal as potentially cancer-causing, due to the presence of acrylamide in high amounts. The WHO said last week that national food agencies in England and Norway have published similar findings.
"We are currently recommending sticking to a balanced diet," a spokesman for the FDA told SN last week as the consultation was under way; the consultation includes three representatives of that agency.
Since the unsettling findings were announced two months ago, the FDA has developed a method to measure acrylamide levels in food, and the agency is now measuring the acrylamide levels in a limited set of foods, the spokesman said. Results will be available in a couple months.
Preliminary results will be useful to compare with findings of other countries for future research, the spokesman said. "Over the long term, the FDA intends to measure acrylamide in a larger set of foods and to carry out research on how and why acrylamide is formed in certain foods," he said, adding that the best advice is to "follow the dietary guidelines, and don't panic."
The U.S. news media picked up the initial story immediately, alerting, if not alarming, consumers nationwide by broadcasting images of french fries and potato chips. The Center for Science in the Public Interest here released a statement in April from CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson that called the Swedish discovery "extremely worrisome" and said this discovery gives consumers another reason to "slash their consumption of french fries and potato chips."
"[However], we have not seen a decline in the sales of our french fries, potato chips or bread since the Swedish findings were announced," Jamie Miller, spokesman for Giant Food, Landover, Md., told SN.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America, based here, agreed with the FDA in saying last week that consumers need not make changes in their dietary habits.