Tuesday, June 7, 2005

What They Don't Say

According to the Capital Press, a regional weekly agricultural newspaper produced in Salem, a proposed labeling requirement in California is bad policy. Advocates want "consumers of french fries and other foods to know about acrylamide".

What is acrylamide? Is it a substantial health risk? Neither of these questions is addressed adequately in the editorial.

In fact, the only information that deals with acrylamide itself is contained in the repeated idea that it's "a naturally occurring compound that can be created when potatoes -- or many other foods -- are fried or cooked at a high temperature".

Instead of discussing the health concerns of this substance, the Capitol Press attacks the idea because it would be bad for business.
In this case, growers, processors and retailers stand to pay the price for labels that wonÂ’t protect the publicÂ’s well-being and distract residents from the important real business at hand.

It sounds like acrylamide is nothing to get in a tizzy about. Yet, according to the FDA,
A potentially cancer-causing agent used to manufacture certain chemicals, plastics, and dyes has recently been found to be a natural by-product of cooking certain foods. The Food and Drug Administration is taking a closer look at this white, odorless chemical, acrylamide, to determine how much of it occurs in foods and whether it could pose a health risk.

In April 2002, researchers in Sweden discovered that cooking at high temperatures could create acrylamide in many types of foods, particularly starchy foods such as french fries, potato chips, bread, rice, and processed cereals.

Scientists know that acrylamide causes cancer in laboratory rats. They also know that contact with large quantities of acrylamide can cause nerve damage in humans. But no one knows whether the tiny amounts of acrylamide in cooked foods can cause cancer or have any other harmful effects when ingested by people. "As soon as we heard about this problem, we took action and laid out a solid plan to learn more about acrylamide and to reduce exposure to it," says Terry Troxell, Ph.D., director of the FDA's Office of Plant and Dairy Foods and Beverages.

Some critics charge that the FDA is grossly understating the issue. As early as 2002, the Center for Science in the Public interest (CSPI) reported that "the amount of acrylamide in a large order of fast-food French fries is at least 300 times more than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows in a glass of water."

I don't know about you, but I like the idea of knowing what I'm shoving down my throat. If it has the potential for causing long term health issues, it would be nice to know this on the front end.

Consequently, I think the Capital Press has woefully missed the mark. Yes, labels may add some costs to certain products, but isn't our health and well-being worth the miniscule cost?

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