Risk	
  Perception	
  and	
  Public	
  Health:	
  	
  The	
  Case	
  of	
  Acrylamide	
  in	
  Food	
  
	
  
In	
  April	
...
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Risk Perception and Public Health: The Case of Acrylamide in Food

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Submission at the Workshop on Risk Assessment in Regulatory Policy Analysis (RIA), Session 16, Mexico, 9-11 June 2014. Further information is available at http://www.oecd.org/gov/regulatory-policy/

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Risk Perception and Public Health: The Case of Acrylamide in Food

  1. 1. Risk  Perception  and  Public  Health:    The  Case  of  Acrylamide  in  Food     In  April  of  2003,  researchers  at  Stockholm  University  announced  in  a  press  conference  that   they  had  found  acrylamide  in  a  range  of  cooked  foods.    Acrylamide  has  long  been  known  a   human  neurotoxin  and  has  concerns  about  carcinogenicity  based  on  tests  in  animals.    The   Swedish  researchers  suggested  the  levels  of  acrylamide  they  had  detected  in  food  could   pose  risks  to  ordinary  consumers  in  Sweden  and  elsewhere.         The  research  and  press  coverage  received  wide  attention  around  the  world.    National   governments  and  international  NGOs  quickly  organized  to  evaluate  the  claim  of   acrylamide’s  presence  in  food  and  the  potential  risks  to  consumers.    In  just  three  weeks  the   World  Health  Organization  (WHO)  announced  that  it  would  hold  an  urgent  expert   consultation  on  acrylamide  because  of  the  Swedish  announcement.    The  governments  of   Norway,  the  Netherlands,  the  USA  and  others  began  risk  assessments.     It  was  found  that  acrylamide  forms  naturally  from  a  chemical  reaction  that  takes  place   between  amino  acids  from  proteins  and  carbohydrates  present  in  foods.    This  reaction   occurs  when  food  is  heated  above  about  120º  C.    Though  originally  found  in  “junk  foods”   like  potato  chips  (crisps)  and  french  fries,  later  testing  found  detectable  levels  of   acrylamide  in  a  very  wide  range  of  foods  including  breads,  cereals,  cookies,  coffee  and  even   baby  foods.    Though  diets  vary  around  the  world  most  risk  assessments  found  an  average   daily  intake  of  acrylamide  from  food  at  about  0.50  µg/kg/day.     Risk  assessments  suggested  that  there  was  little  concern  for  noncancer  effects,  specifically   neurotoxicity,  at  these  levels.    However,  using  cancer  slope  factors  from  either  the  US  EPA   or  the  WHO,  estimates  of  excess  cancer  risk  due  to  acrylamide  exposure  are  quite  high   (approximately  1  x  10-­‐3  (one  in  a  thousand  excess  cancer  risk)).    This  level,  for  example,  is   1000  times  higher  than  what  US  EPA  usually  considers  an  “acceptable”  level  of  excess   cancer  risk.     To  this  point,  no  government  has  acted  to  regulate  levels  of  acrylamide  in  food.    There  is   virtually  no  public  awareness  of  this  risk  or  demand  for  action.    Although  arguably  the   largest  chemical  cancer  risk  in  the  food  supply  there  is  apparently  little  concern.    US  FDA   updated  its  acrylamide  information  page  in  2013  and  but  WHO  has  not  done  so  since  2007.     Based  on  your  knowledge  of  risk  perception:   • Did  you  know  of  the  presence  of  acrylamide  in  food?     • What  factors  could  explain  the  lack  of  public  concern  about  acrylamide  in  food?     • From  a  risk-­‐based  public  health  decision  making  perspective,  what  would  be  an   appropriate  approach  to  acrylamide  in  food?     • How  does,  and  how  should,  public  perception  influence  risk-­‐based  regulation?  

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