WHO announces urgent meeting on new food cancer scare
Fri Apr 26,12:15 PM ET
GENEVA - The World Health Organization said Friday that it plans to hold an urgent expert meeting in the coming weeks to assess the health risk from a cancer-causing substance which Swedish scientists discovered in high quantities in potato products and other high carbohydrate foods.
The study, released Wednesday, found that the substance known as acrylamide forms in varying levels when carbohydrates are heated in a certain way, such as by frying potatoes or baking bread. Researchers said the discovery could offer a clue about food-related cancers.
"Previous concerns about acrylamide were a result of known human exposure through drinking water and in certain occupations. The Swedish announcement is the first report of the presence of elevated levels of acrylamide in food," said WHO in a statement.
The U.N. health agency said it hoped to hold expert consultations before the end of June to "fill in relevant gaps in knowledge." Although much is known about acrylamide and its effects in animals, there is far less information about its effects on humans.
Among the questions to be resolved is whether acrylamide can be taken up from food as readily as it is from water and how harmful this is, WHO said.
WHO said the Swedish findings did not change basic dietary advice to eat less fat and more fruit and vegetables.
The Swedish scientists studied more than 100 foods bought in stores and restaurants and determined that "fried, oven-baked and deep-fried potato and cereal products may contain high levels of acrylamide."
In 1994, WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer evaluated acrylamide as "probably carcinogenic to humans," based on its effects on experimental animals.
"The few epidemiological studies of acrylamide that were available at that time were inadequate to establish that occupational exposures to acrylamide had increased cancer risks in exposed workers," it said.