ROME, 26 April 2002 -- It is too early to reach any firm conclusions on the unexpected finding of the toxic chemical acrylamide in fried and baked food by Sweden's National Food Administration, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today. It added that it welcomed the suggestion by Swedish authorities to study the findings in co-operation with international organisations and has already requested access to the data.

FAO's comments came in the wake of an NFA announcement this week that a scientific group at the University of Stockholm found that acrylamide "probable human carcinogen" is formed during heating of starch-rich foods to high temperatures. The NFA also announced that it has developed a new, rapid method for the analysis of acrylamide in foods. It said the risks associated with acrylamide in foods are not new, but added that emerging knowledge may make it possible to reduce the risks that we have so far accepted without discussion.

Acrylamide is used in the manufacturing of plastics and is strictly controlled by environmental regulations. The new data claim that acrylamide is formed spontaneously in foods while frying potatoes, for example, or baking bread or cookies. However, Swedish authorities offered no explanation about how and why this occurs.

According to FAO, the toxicological effects of acrylamide are well known. It causes DNA damage and at high doses neurological and reproductive effects have been observed. Prolonged exposure has induced tumours in rats, but cancer in man has not been convincingly shown. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified acrylamide as a "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Dr. Manfred Luetzow, FAO's food chemicals expert in the Organization's Food and Nutrition Division, said: "We understand from the report that this is not a new risk. This contaminant has probably been present in such foods since mankind started to bake and fry. Unfortunately, the information available does not allow us to draw conclusions or to make recommendations for consumers or food manufacturers."

Dr. Luetzow said that the current FAO/WHO recommendation to consume a well-balanced and diversified diet prepared in ways that preserve nutrient contents is consistent with the new findings and does not need to be changed.