Plans to Limit Use of Cancer-Linked Chemical Dropped in U.K.

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By Gillie Houston Posted October 26, 2016

Acrylamide has previously been deemed an "extremely hazardous substance" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In response to lobbying by major figures in the U.K. food industry, European food safety authorities have backed off a plan to limit the use of a common, potentially cancer-causing chemical. In documents leaked this week, it was revealed that the EU dropped legislation that would restrict the usage of acrylamide in food, despite evidence that the ingredient could be linked to cancer.

Acrylamide—a chemical found in high levels in a variety of starchy foods, including potato chips, breakfast cereals, baby foods, instant coffee, and more—has previously been deemed an "extremely hazardous substance" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Guardian reports. Across the pond, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also declared that the chemical "potentially increases the risk of developing cancer in consumers of all ages."

Despite recommendations to limit exposure to the chemical, and the EFSA's assertions that "any level of exposure to a genotoxic substance could potentially damage DNA," lawmakers have pulled back from strict regulations of the possibly hazardous ingredient.

Now, leaked documents have shown that food industry lobbyists had "undue influence" in the regulatory decision-making process, and were the catalyst for limits on acrylamide being dropped. The E.U. was previously expected to pass a law that intensified efforts to improve public health protections against dangerous chemicals, in part by urging the food industry to "provide evidence of regular testing of their products to ensure that the application of the code of practice is effective in keeping acrylamide levels as low as reasonably achievable and at least below the indicative levels."

The "indicative levels" would have been determined by an annex of pre-set limits to the amount of the chemical that could be included in common grocery store items like crackers, cookies, and chips. However, following immediate push-back by the large food industry association Food Drink Europe, which claimed the terminology included in the regulation was too restrictive, the law was edited to make the phrasing more lenient and to eliminate definite limits on the chemical.

According to Martin Pigeon, a spokesperson for Corporate Europe Observatory, the documents reveal "yet another case of the meaningless regulations obtained when giving industry too much say about its own regulation." Pigeon adds that the practice of "secretly sharing draft regulatory texts with relevant lobby groups months before they are publicly known is a permanent scandal" and an all-too-frequent practice.

While the European commission has responded to these claims by ensuring they are still pursuing a law that would hopefully cut back on the usage of the chemical, as of now there are no plans to legally enforce an acrylamide limit– giving food producers the freedom to include the chemical as they please.

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