EU injects €1.5m into acrylamide research

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

Acrylamide can be found in baked goods, such as biscuits and cookies. © iStock/Nastco
Acrylamide can be found in baked goods, such as biscuits and cookies. © iStock/Nastco

Related tags European union

Nordic scientists will investigate the link between acrylamide exposure and obesity, diabetes and fertility with a €1.5m grant from the European Research Council (ERC).  

The carcinogenic effects of the contaminant have been explored but less attention has focused on other possible consequences.

Marie Pedersen, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen’s department of public health, said the grant would enable the team of researchers to better determine these other unwanted health effects.

“So far we have mainly seen studies among adults based on questionnaire surveys surrounded by some uncertainty and research into the carcinogenic effects of acrylamide, but its other effects on humans have not been sufficiently clarified,” ​she said.

Found in foods such as crisps, biscuits, coffee and chips, acrylamide is a carcinogenic contaminant that forms naturally in food when certain sugars and asparagine are heated during baking, frying and roasting. It cannot be completely eliminated but levels can be greatly reduced by adopting certain best practice techniques.

“No research has been done into late effects caused by exposure during the first, vulnerable stage of life characterised by the development of the organs and functions of the body.”

Pederson identified this area for further research after previous studies she led found a connection between the concentration of acrylamide-haemoglobin adducts in blood collected from the umbilical cord and the birth weight and head size of new-born babies. The higher the level of acrylamide, the lower the birthweight and the smaller the head size.

Using data from existing Danish birth cohort studies and information from questionnaires, Pederson’s team will expand upon these initial findings by looking at later life stages.

In addition, Pedersen will explore the possible connection between early exposure to acrylamide and the reproductive capacity of both men and women - a negative effect seen in rodent  - as well whether acrylamide exposure increases the risk of diabetes and obesity. 

Pederson’s team of four will include two post-doctoral researchers and a statistician, and the Danish and Swedish researchers will use the €1.5m to determine exposure levels to acrylamide and develop biomarker methods.

Legislation on its way

Earlier this year, the European Commission put forward a regulatory proposal that was approved by member state representatives. The proposal, which is expected to come into force at the start of next year, will see binding mitigation measures to be carried out by manufacturers and suppliers. It will also set benchmark levels to verify the effectiveness of the mitigation strategies.

The Commission also plans to set maximum limits for acrylamide in certain foods which it says will be “in addition and complementary to”​ the envisaged mitigation measures.

In 2017, the ERC had an annual budget of around €1.8bn to spend on scientific research, the highest amount since it was created in 2007. 

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