A few years ago we covered Swedish scientists’ declaration that eating ridiculous amounts of starchy foods could give you cancer. “What next?” we asked. Breakfast cereal, apparently.
Alex Renton reports in The Times of London:
“[Food writer Felicity] Lawrence says that the processing of cereals produces a substance called acrylamide. Consume more than 40 micrograms a day, and a woman’s chances of getting cancer of the ovary or womb are apparently doubled.”
A little perspective is in order. Thoroughly reviewed studies on this topic, from the British Journal of Cancer and the International Journal of Cancer, found no added cancer risk from the tiny amount of acrylamide in food. And just two years ago the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology released a paper concluding: "There is scant evidence that the consumption of foods containing acrylamide is harmful to humans."
But food cops have never been ones to suffer from an excess of intellectual humility. And the gap between their sensationalist theories on acrylamide and the actual facts is barely narrower than the Atlantic.It turns out that in order to be in any real danger from acrylamide, a person of average weight would have to eat over 62 pounds of potato chips or 182 pounds of fries, every day, for his or her entire life.
As for cereal, Renton muses, “An average bowl of cereal contains 9 micrograms of acrylamide. So stop at the fourth bowl.”Cancer is a dismal topic, but the unintentional humor of the food cops can’t help but remind us of a classic spoof of “Total” cereal commercials in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, in which a man is told he’d need to eat 30,000 bowls of his usual oat bran cereal to obtain the fiber content of one bowl of “Colon Blow.”
We shouldn’t expect food-scare architects to cease peddling absurdities any time soon. And, in the meantime, we should heed Renton’s advice:
“Perhaps food scares should come with a warning label. It would read: ‘Rickets is rare in this country these days. We eat more cheaply and with far greater choice than has any generation of human beings before us. Be grateful. Enjoy’.”