Acrylamides, a family of chemicals recently found in cooked starchy foods that are known to cause cancer in rats, pose little threat to the U.S. population, an expert panel reported last week.
People do not consume enough of the chemicals in their daily diet to risk the genetic damage that can lead to cancer, according to the panel, which was composed of experts from areas such as reproductive toxicology and birth defects.
The report was commissioned by the National Toxicology Program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. It follows a report in 2000 by Swedish researchers who found the chemical in baked and fried carbohydrate-containing foods. Agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began immediate assessments of potential risks to people.
The FDA found the chemical in olives, prune juice and teething biscuits. It is also found in cigarette smoke and is used in industrial processes to make polymers.
Experts say the best way to find out if acrylamide causes cancer in people is to do epidemiological studies - studies of populations to see if people who eat more foods containing acrylamides have higher rates of cancer. One such study, published by American and Swedish researchers in January 2003, found no link between acrylamide consumption and the risk of bladder or kidney cancer.
The new report concluded that most Americans get about 0.43 micrograms per kilogram of body weight a day in the diet. Comparative amounts in laboratory mice and rats do not cause cancer.
While acrylamides can cause genetic mutations that can be passed on to the next generation in mice, people do not generally take in enough of the chemical to cause such damage.
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