Filed Under: Food Police Food Scares

Science, Scaremongers, and Lawsuits: The Acrylamide Story

Ever since researchers in Sweden discovered it two years ago in fried and baked foods like french fries, potato chips, and bread, acrylamide has been exploited by nutrition zealots who enjoy scaring us away from the foods they hate. On the heels of the initial discovery, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) jumped without looking (as usual) and petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to force food companies to continually lower the acrylamide content in their products. Using willful manipulations and junk science calculations, CSPI made the false claim that acrylamide was responsible for “8,900 cancers per year.” Yet study after study shows that it’s much ado about nothing. Sadly, facts rarely get in the way of a good scare campaign — or a good lawsuit.

The Los Angeles Times reports that trial lawyers in California “have filed a flurry of [acrylamide] lawsuits” against food vendors under the state’s infamous “bounty hunter” law, Proposition 65. Prop 65 “violators” can be fined up to $2,500 per day, per violation (of which plaintiffs can collect up to 25 percent of the total take) for not slapping warning labels on any product that contains a carcinogen — even if the chemical is found in inedible objects like fishing poles. Of course, public health isn’t the real motive of trial lawyers — it’s money. Former FDA official Henry Miller calls Prop 65-inspired warning label clutter “absurd,” explaining: “When you have too much information, and it doesn’t discriminate, it does not inform.”

Last week, the American Chemical Society held a symposium in Anaheim titled “Chemistry and Safety of Acrylamide in Food.” Some of the recent science unveiled at the conference includes:

A cancer-risk study from Harvard’s Dr. Lorelei Mucci, which found “no link between dietary acrylamide and risk of bladder, kidney or colorectal cancer.” In this week’s issue of the journal Nature, Mucci reports that the average acrylamide intake “for those who develop breast cancer is the same as for those who don’t.” Mucci adds that “no one” in the scientific community “is saying this will cause an epidemic of cancer.”

A nutrition study from Barbara J. Petersen, a former FDA principal investigator and World Health Organization advisor, who found that “virtually all of the foods associated with acrylamide contribute important nutrients (calories, vitamins, minerals, proteins) to the diet.” Petersen argues that attempts to artificially “control” acrylamide exposure will result in a negative impact on overall nutrition.

These recent findings are just the latest in a long line of scientific reassurances. Last year, Dr. Mucci’s research team collaborated with a Swedish group on a study published by the British Journal of Cancer, which found a lower risk of bowel cancer associated with high acrylamide intake. The journal Nature, commenting on the study, wrote: “High levels of acrylamide in foods such as chips, crisps and bread, do not seem to raise the risk of cancer.” Last summer the International Journal of Cancer reported on a major European study that provided “evidence for the lack of an important association between consumption of fried and/or baked potatoes and cancer risk.”

Although the evidence against its bogus acrylamide scare continues to mount, CSPI has yet to retract any of its absurd claims. In the food scare arena, sounding a false alarm through the media is “mission accomplished” — perpetrators rarely come clean even after the facts come out. And considering CSPI’s history of colluding with trial lawyers to bring Prop 65 acrylamide lawsuits against American companies, coming clean could ruin someone’s payday.

For more information about how CSPI manufactured evidence and arbitrary “adjusted” government nutrition data to inflate acrylamide fears, read our reply brief to the FDA.

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