Cancer study 1
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Report: Potato chips, french fries contain substance that may cause cancer
Wed Apr 24, 1:45 PM ET
By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Potato chips, french fries and other high-carbohydrate foods that are common around the world contain a substance that may cause cancer, according to a study released Wednesday by Swedish food authorities.
The substance, called acrylamide, forms in varying levels when carbohydrates are heated in a certain way, such as by baking bread or frying potatoes, researchers claimed.
"The discovery (news - web sites) that acrylamide is formed during the preparation of food ... is new knowledge," Leif Busk, chief researcher at the National Food Administration, said. "It may now be possible to explain some of the cases of cancer caused by food."
The governmental agency, following up on research by a group of scientists at Stockholm University, studied more than 100 foods and determined that "fried, oven-baked and deep-fried potato and cereal products may contain high levels of acrylamide."
Experts not involved with the study expressed surprise at the discovery of the agent, which has been classified as a "probable human carcinogen," in the food but cautioned that no link to cancer had been confirmed.
"I think we need to step back a little bit and wait for greater discussion of the issue and see the findings presented in more detail," said Carl Winter, a toxicologist at the University of California at Davis. "The most important thing is not the presence or absence of any type of ingredient but how much is there."
Winter pointed out that it was unusual for such results to be released before publication in a scientific journal and said more investigation was needed.
"I would caution consumers to be a little patient here," he said. "Cancer's a very scary word, but one has to understand how these tests are done."
The Swedish agency said the findings have been submitted to unspecified international researchers and to the 15-nation European Union (news - web sites) for consideration, but they felt the information was important enough to release now.
"I am quite sure that this is a problem everywhere and we need to do something about it," Busk said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) describes acrylamide as white, odorless, flake-like crystals that are used mainly in treating drinking water and for industrial purposes and can cause cancer in people exposed to high levels for a long period.
Busk estimated that it could be responsible for several hundred of the 45,000 cancer cases in Sweden each year, based on experiments in which rats were fed fried food, but he declined to be more specific about the possible cancer risk.
No new guidelines were issued on what or how to eat, although researchers pointed out that it's always more healthy to avoid fried foods.
"Do not stop eating these foods, but beware of what you eat, eat more cooked food, more vegetables," said Lilianne Abramsson Zetterberg, a toxicologist with the government agency.
Two of Sweden's national newspapers reported the story on their front pages Tuesday ahead of the food agency's news conference, which was televised live to an interested, apparently nervous public. So many people tried to log onto the agency's Web site that it temporarily shut down.
"I see this alarm as one among many," said Eva Buren, a spokeswoman for the grocery chain ICA. "Most of us know already that you should not eat a bag of chips a day."