EP News Report, 28 January 2003
Environment Committee MEPs quizzed the Commission this morning on the steps it was taking following the detection of alarmingly high concentrations of the carcinogenic and nerve-damaging substance acrylamide in starchy foods, including baby rusks and infant formula.
Two questions, tabled by the German MEPs Rosemarie MÜLLER (PES) and Emilia MÜLLER (EPP-ED), were prompted by the detection last April, using sensitive new tests, of sometimes high concentrations of acrylamide - a substance used in the plastics industry - in starchy foods heated to high temperatures.
The Commission representative explained that the substance is not a food additive but is the result of a chemical reaction when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures. She said the problem had probably always existed but had only recently been identified. The Commission was gathering data on the current levels of acrylamide in foodstuffs and was seeking to determine exactly how the substance was released during processing or cooking. It should have the results by the summer and would then assess the risk and seek ways of reducing levels as far as was "reasonably achievable".
Rosemarie Müller said the Commission was acting too slowly and complained that new legislation was unlikely before the end of the year. Emilia Müller demanded to know whether the revision of the baby-food directives (96/5/EC and 91/321/EEC) already planned for this year would include new, lower limit values for acrylamide, following the detection in Germany of between 160 and 400 micrograms per kilo of the substance in a biscuit product for children and in a rusk used to make porridge. She was assured that new limit values would be set specifically for baby food and infant formula if necessary.
The authors of the questions also pointed out that the substance occurred in a wide range of foods, including breakfast cereals and crisps, as well as biscuits. They raised the question of polyacrylamide in toiletries such as bath-bubble and shampoo but were assured that these had not been found to pose a risk. One worried MEP asked whether the levels of acrylamides in drinking water were safe and was assured that they were subject to "drastic limits". Another asked about the deliberate addition to foodstuffs of other substances which could react when heated to produce acrylamide, for example silicone added to cooking oil in order make crisps crunchier. The Commission representative promised to investigate the matter.