California withdraws proposed acrylamide warning rules

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Acrylamide

California has withdrawn proposed rules that would have required
food manufacturers to place acrylamide warning labels on certain
products.

The proposals, announced in April 2005, attracted "voluminous comments,"​ which could not all be reviewed within the one-year time frame allowed by law, and which resulted in the withdrawal.

However, California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) said it intends to submit new proposed regulations within the next 60 days.

Indeed, the issue has already resulted in significant tension between the industry and consumer groups.

The state's voter-approved warning-label law, Proposition 65, requires that manufacturers alert customers about the existence of cancer-causing compounds in food.

But the inclusion of acrylamide, a carcinogen that is created when starchy foods are baked, roasted, fried or toasted, on labels is fiercely opposed by the food industry, despite claims that there is a legal obligation on food firms to inform customers of all possible dangers.

"There is enormous pressure from the food industry on the regulatory authorities to exempt cooked foods from this new law,"​ Mike Schmitz of the California League for Environmental Enforcement Now had told FoodNavigator-USA.com last year.

A suggested warning developed by the state OEHHA for foods containing acrylamide is as follows:

Warning: Baking, roasting, frying and toasting starchy foods forms acrylamide, a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer.

Food processors remain resolutely opposed to such a warning, fearing that such labeling would needlessly scare consumers. They argue that obesity, over-consumption and alcohol are much more likely to increase the risk of cancer than trace levels of carcinogens in food.

Acrylamide, a synthetic polymer used for grout and in treating sewage, was placed on California's Proposition 65 carcinogen list in 1990. Twelve years later, Swedish scientists discovered acrylamide was created when starchy foods were cooked at high temperatures.

Since then, pressure has been mounting on food companies to better label their products. Public health bodies have become increasingly vigilant; according to the

Environmental Law Foundation (ELF), dozens of potato chips contain excessive levels of acrylamide without any warning whatsoever.

For every product the pressure group tested, a one-ounce serving eaten daily exceeded levels that require a cancer warning under Proposition 65.

And last year, the state of California filed a lawsuit against nine top food manufacturers over their reluctance to issue acrylamide warnings. The defendants in the lawsuit included heavy weights such as Burger King, Frito-Lay, Heinz, KFC and McDonald's.

But Attorney General Bill Lockyer's action was not the first to seek consumer warnings for the substance. A private suit filed in 2002 by the Committee for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) also named McDonald's and Burger King as defendants.

Another set of two private suits filed on 3 August 2005 by Environmental World Watch (EWW) identified a number of the same defendants as the Attorney General's suit. Additional actions were filed on 25 August 2005 by the ELF.

But although the current withdrawal of the proposed warning rules may provide some breathing space for manufacturers, the respite will only be temporary. The OEHHA says it plans to submit new proposed regulations to the Office of Administrative Law by the end of May this year.

Related topics: Regulation, Food safety and labeling

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