High levels of carcinogenic chemical found in UK baby biscuits

6 Mar 2017 Acrylamide in food

Ten percent of biscuits for infants and young children surveyed on sale in the UK have
high levels of acrylamide, a known carcinogen, reveals a new study.

The survey, commissioned by the Changing Markets Foundation, analysed 48 types of
biscuits for infants and young children in the UK, including well-known brands Little Dish
and Ella’s Kitchen.

The highest levels of acrylamide were found in a sample of Little Dish biscuits for one year-olds; these were found to contain a concentration of 924.4 µg/kg, almost five times
above the European benchmark and 30 times higher than products with the lowest

Exposure of babies and young children to acrylamide is considered of particular concern by
the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) [1]; a recent study from the UK Food Standards
Agency (FSA) concluded that people in the UK currently consume higher levels of the
chemical than is desirable and that the risk of cancer from acrylamide exposure is three
times higher in infants than in adults [2].

In total, four samples of similar products from the brand Little Dish exceeded the
recommended EU benchmark (200µg/kg) while one sample from Ella’s Kitchen came close
to it (full results are available in the Annex). Changing Markets and SumOfUs’ survey of
baby biscuits in France found only one product – Nestlé brand – that had levels higher than
the benchmark.

Similar products sold in Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Bulgaria were recently
recalled from the market for having levels of acrylamide at 1020 µg/kg [3].

Today’s findings come just six months after the FSA published its own monitoring results
showing 29 products exceeding the recommended acrylamide benchmarks, including
three types of baby foods [4].

The FSA recently launched the Go for Gold campaign, focused on recommendations on how
to reduce acrylamide levels through home cooking.

“While it is important not to burn your toast, the FSA seems to be shying away from taking a
tougher stance on the food industry, where significant reductions of acrylamide are
possible. We mustn’t forget that acrylamide exposure from home-cooked food is considered
relatively small when compared with industrially or restaurant-prepared foods [5]” says
Nabil Berbour, senior campaigner at SumOfUs, a global consumer watchdog whose petition
asking the EU Commission to set legally binding maximum levels of acrylamide in food has
gathered more than 229.000 signatures.

The presence of acrylamide, which is formed when starchy foods are heated up, can be
significantly minimised by food business operators through the application of different
measures [6], as confirmed by those samples with undetectable levels of acrylamide.
Nevertheless, many food operators are still unaware of acrylamide or unwilling to take
measures to reduce the levels due to a lack of mandatory legal limits [7].

In response to this, a legislative proposal on acrylamide in food [8] is currently being
discussed by the European Commission and Member States. This proposal has been heavily
criticised by food safety and consumer protection groups because it fails to introduce
maximum legal limits for acrylamide, which is the approach taken on other contaminants in
EU law.

Such a weak proposal will prolong the status quo, where companies can continue to sell
their products even when these are found to have high levels of acrylamide. The vote on the
draft proposal is expected in June.

“It is a shame that the Food Standards Agency continues to support a weak EU proposal,
which will prolong the current ineffective industry self-regulation”. said Nuša Urbančič,
campaigns director at Changing Markets. “With this stance the FSA is passing the hot potato
from the industry to the consumers, while it is becoming clearer that industrial foods with
high levels of acrylamide are not an isolated case [9].”

Notes to editors:

[1] EFSA’s scientific opinion on acrylamide in food
[2] FSA’s Total Diet Study
[3] Member States take action to remove baby biscuits with high levels of acrylamide
from the market
[4] https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/acrylamide-furan-report.pdf
[5] HEATOX project http://heatox.org
[6] Food and Drink Europe’s Acrylamide’s Toolbox
[7] https://www.efsa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/event/documentset/141210-p13.pdf
[8] European Commission’s draft legislative proposal
[9] SumOfUs’ report on acrylamide levels found in food in the EU

About the analysis:

The samples were prepared and analysed for acrylamide by Fera Science Ltd in York (UKAS
ISO17025 accredited laboratory). The analytical method was gas chromatography−mass
Spectrometry (GC-MS), which has a reporting limit of 30 μg/kg. The samples were taken in
different retailers across London in January 2017.

About SumOfUs:
SumOfUs is a global consumer group that campaigns to hold big corporations accountable.
Over 12 million people have taken over 50 million actions worldwide with SumOfUs since it
was launched.

Further information:

Nuša Urbančič
Changing Markets
+44 7 60 32 22 38

Eoin Dubsky
Campaigns Manager
+353 8 97 05 71 23

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