CSPI applauds state for resisting

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shouldn’t be trying to prevent California regulators from protecting consumers from acrylamide—a cancer-causing chemical that occurs in food, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The FDA wrote officials of the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) urging it not to warn consumers about acrylamide—even though many foods contain more acrylamide than what the FDA considers safe.

OEHHA is considering regulating acrylamide in food under California’s Proposition 65. That law requires companies to place warning notices on products that contain more than specified levels of known carcinogens. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has limits on how much acrylamide is safe in drinking water, since a related chemical is sometimes used in water treatment. And in 2002, the FDA set a safe daily limit on acrylamide in food because the chemical has also been shown to be a neurotoxin. But those facts are conspicuously absent in FDA’s letter to OEHHA, says CSPI.

“It’s bad enough that the FDA has limited itself to research, not regulation,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But the federal government shouldn’t be discouraging state governments from actively protecting the public health.”

In written comment to OEHHA, CSPI praised the agency for its initiative and recommended that the state consider warnings when a food product has more than the average level of acrylamide in that category of food. For instance, Cheerios (266 parts per billion (ppb) acrylamide) would have to bear a warning, while Rice Krispies (47 ppb) would not. In FDA’s tests, the median level of acrylamide in breakfast cereals is 71 ppb.

According to CSPI, this isn’t the first time the feds have leaned on California regulators to weaken a food-safety initiative. Earlier this summer, the FDA urged California Health Department officials to rescind a ban on raw, unprocessed Gulf Coast oysters harvested in warm months, when most shellfish are contaminated with the deadly Vibrio vulnificus bacteria.

Acrylamide was only recently discovered as a contaminant in certain cooked foods. It typically is at higher levels in carbohydrate-rich foods that are cooked at high temperatures, or for long times. French fries, potato chips, and coffee are among the biggest sources of dietary acrylamide. Lower levels of acrylamide have been detected in infant formulas and baby foods.

Some of the most contaminated foods, according to the FDA’s tests, include Wheatena Toasted Wheat cereal, BBQ-flavored Pringles, Popeye’s French Fries, Folger Classic Roast Coffee, and Schmidt Old Tyme Split-Top Wheat Bread.