Monday, August 21, 2006

The flap on labeling and acrylamide

There's a little article in today's Daily News (and AP) about how California laws about food labeling are driving food manufacturer's nutty. As a part of Prop. 65, food companies have to alert the public with a food label if their products contains lead, arsenic, acrylamide, etc. -- even if it's in amounts generally regarded as safe. It's to inform the public, and discourage food makers from including those substances where they can be avoided. But sometimes it can't be avoided, as in the case of acrylamide. Acrylamide, (a carcinogen) is formed when heat causes asparagine, an amino acid (the building blocks of proteins), to react with some sugars during something called the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction browns food, making it delicious because it brings out the sweet flavor and improves texture. This reaction is what makes the browned crust on meats, but acrylamide doesn't form there because there isn't much sugar. In the presence of starch, however, acrylamide forms -- so toast, potato chips, browned cake tops -- all of that forms acrylamide -- not a ton, and researchers don't yet know what the impact is, but some. Over a lifetime, it could, might lead to some kinds of cancer.

The discovery occurred only a few years ago, after a tunnel accident in Sweden exposed workers to industrial acrylamide (that was in 1997). Researchers aimed to quantify the workers' exposure by measuring how much acrylamide was in their bloodstreams compared to normal, unexposed people. They were surprised to find that the control subjects -- those with out exposure -- had acrylamide in their bloodstreams. After eliminating other lifestyle factors, they determined it was coming from food (2002), and it took a while before other researchers narrowed their focus to starchy foods, and finally the amino acid asparagine and reducing sugars (2003, 2004). So there's more research to be done. Meanwhile, places like Mcdonald's, Burger King and potato chip companies are being sued over labeling for acrylamide in their products. Their response has been to try like hell to develop ways of reducing the acrylamide formed (namely by decreasing the amount of asparagine if I'm remembering correctly). I'm guessing you'll see a genetically engineered, low-acrylamide potato at some point. The people at Simplot probably didn't stand around scritching their heads for long when the acrylamide news broke.

Meanwhile, the food industry wants to deal with this by going to Congress to have the state labeling laws overturned in favor of their only following federal regulations regarding labeling. I can understand why. It's not like the federally allowable amounts of lead are really high. But I would like to know, and I am happy I live in a state where people voted in favor of knowing what's in their food.


Post a Comment

<< Home