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Action value: A first step towards drastically reducing acrylamide in foods

19/2002, 14.08.2002

BgVV calls on manufacturers to further reduce the levels of this substance as soon as possible

Well-founded maximum levels for acrylamide in foods cannot be laid down at the present time according to the Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine (BgVV). The Institute does, however, recommend the introduction of an "action value" of 1000 microgram acrylamide per kilogram food as a first step towards a further drastic reduction. The goal is to reduce the level of acrylamide as far as possible. "Acrylamide is a substance which can probably also trigger cancer in man and damage the genotype", commented Dr. Dieter Arnold, the Director of BgVV. "We believe that acrylamide uptake from foods is critical and are, therefore, explicitly calling on manufacturers to do everything in their power to reduce the levels of this substance as quickly and as much as possible". Consumers have possibly been taking in large levels of acrylamide from foods for years; hence, the need to solve this problem quickly and, if necessary, through a graduated approach.

Acrylamide is a "component" in plastics. Under certain circumstances the substance is formed (without being admixed externally) during the production of foods in the commercial and private sectors. In some cases, very high levels of acrylamide of more than 3,000 microgram per kilogram have been detected in very strongly heated carbohydrate-containing foods. By contrast, no acrylamide was found in vegetables, fruit, meat or in boiled or steamed foods. There are now some indications of the factors which contribute to the formation of acrylamide but no light has as yet been thrown on the mode of formation.

The action value now recommended by BgVV aims to protect the consumer in the short term from peak acrylamide burdens by calling on industry to take action and by giving the official food control authorities of the federal states the possibility of intervening until such times as a well-founded derivation of maximum levels is possible.

This will mainly apply to individual products from the crisps category and, to a lesser degree, to other snacks and biscuits. BgVV is aware of the fact that an action value of this kind can only be a first step towards a drastic reduction of acrylamide levels because it does not reach important sources of contamination. They include, for instance, products manufactured in private households which may have comparably high levels of acrylamide.

An information seminar is to examine what other effective steps could be taken with regard to risk minimisation and, by extension, to preventive consumer health protection. BgVV has extended an invitation to this seminar which is being staged in Berlin on 29 August 2002. The whole-day information seminar is entitled "Acrylamide in foods - serious problem or exaggerated risk?" Three months after the first hearing in BgVV, this is planned as a follow-up. Experts will provide information on the current state of knowledge and present, for the first time, more extensive data on acrylamide contamination in Germany. The future procedure is to be explained and the risk posed to consumers from acrylamide discussed. At the seminar practical tips will also be given on how to reduce acrylamide levels in the home.

Besides representatives of political circles, official control bodies, federal and university institutes, consumer associations, trade unions, industry and media, BgVV has also invited interested consumers to this full-day event.

Details of the programme for the seminar and further information can be accessed on the BgVV homepage (www.bgvv.de)

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