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WHO to Host Discussion on Health Risk Caused by Acrylamide in Some Foods - 2002-06-22

Experts meet at the World Health Organization in Geneva Monday, June 24 to examine the health risk caused by the chemical acrylamide in some foods . The chemical, which is known to cause cancer in animals, is found is some starch-based foods when cooked at high temperatures.

The World Health Organization and the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization have invited 25 scientists and doctors from around the world to discuss the latest findings about acrylamide.

Last month, the Swedish National Food Authority published a report, saying that acrylamide, a cancer causing agent in animals, is found in high levels in starches heated above 180 degree celsius. It is present in popular foods like potato chips, French fries and certain breads.

Similar studies in Britain, Switzerland, and Norway have shown the same results.

Jurgen Schlundt of WHO's Food Safety program said the chemical is used to purify drinking and waste water and as an aid in papermaking. But he said that until recently, it was never known to be present in food.

Dr. Schlundt said WHO is hosting the expert consultation about the research to see what sort of recommendations should be made to consumers. "We wanted to get experts from all over the world together to look at that information, to find out what it actually means in relation to our diet and what the level of risk could be, and also what new efforts could be done to lower that risk if it was a significant risk," he said.

Dr. Schlundt says scientists generally believe that if a substance causes cancer in animals, it should be considered a human carcinogen until something else proves otherwise. Acrylamide has been found to cause cancer of the digestive tract, mammary glands, and skin in animals.

WHO plans to release the results of the consultation on Thursday, June 27.