Zammit Dimech calls for stricter measures on carcinogenic foods amidst acrylamide scare

Francis Zammit Dimech raised the alarm on acrylamide in the European Parliament and pledged to work hard at this level so no shortcuts would be taken when it comes to food safety

PN MEP candidate Francis Zammit Dimech
PN MEP candidate Francis Zammit Dimech

PN MEP candidate Francis Zammit Dimech called for stricter measures to monitor carcinogens in foods amidst studies that found that certain foods exposed to high temperatures were releasing high levels of carcinogenic substances.

Especially when it comes to the carcinogen acrylamide, high levels of cancerous agents were detected in a third of biscuit products tested by consumer groups in 10 EU states. This was back in March of this year when the Maltese Consumer Association warned of these levels. It joined other European consumer groups calling for stricter obligatory standards on acrylamide.

READ MORE: Cancer-causing chemical found in a third of biscuits tested by European consumer groups

“Member States must ensure that benchmark levels for acrylamide in food are below recommended doses. Bigger efforts are needed to protect consumers from exposure to substances that can cause cancer. I welcome that the further discussions are under way to complement existing measures set in the EU regulation.” Zammit Dimech made these remarks after being given an official reply following a question he tabled with the European Commission on food safety.

Acrylamide is a substance that forms naturally during high-temperature cooking and processing, such as frying, roasting and baking. In an opinion adopted in 2015, the Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirmed that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups.

Whereas a new EU acrylamide legislation Regulation which concerns various foods (such as fries, potatoes crisps, bread, breakfast cereals, fine bakers such as cookies and coffee) came into force over a year ago, the substance was found to be above benchmarks in samples taken from biscuits and wafers some of which are specifically marketed for children.

Zammit Dimech said that this is worrying since these products can possibly be imported and also impact Maltese consumers.

In his answer Vice-President Katainen said that food business operators are obliged to monitor the effectiveness of the mitigation measures by sampling and analysing their production, demonstrating that the levels of acrylamide are below the set benchmark levels. He added that Member States are required to regularly perform official controls to ensure compliance with the regulation, in particular to ensure that food business operators are applying the mitigation measures.

Zammit Dimech who is member of the MEPs against cancer said, “We need to fight cancer in every possible way including through a healthy lifestyle and what we eat.” Earlier this year Zammit Dimech worked to update existing rules on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work. Zammit Dimech added that further research is needed to assist the food industry.

In his reply Katainen added that complementary to the measures provided by the EU regulation, maximum levels for acrylamide in certain foods are currently under discussion with the Member States. The law itself as adopted also foresees a review of the benchmark levels based on data. In its opinion, the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) had called for benchmarks to be set for ‘vegetable crisps’ and other missing categories including potato products such as croquettes, croissants and rice crackers.

Zammit Dimech called on Member States to be ambitious in their review to ensure that risks are reduced as much as possible and joined the Malta Consumer Association in calling on Maltese authorities to test products in the local market for the chemical and to give peace of mind to consumers. He pledged to work so that no shortcuts are made when it comes to food safety.