The European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety backed the regulation’s introduction by 44 votes to ten, with seven abstentions.
This clears the way for the EC to progress legislation to curb levels of acrylamide in food products, including the introduction of binding mitigation action as well as benchmark levels.
Acrylamide is a carcinogenic contaminant that naturally occurs in starchy foods roasted, baked or fried over 120°C. Consumption has been liked to increased risks of developing cancer.
Planned mitigation measures cover the farm-to-fork supply chain and include the measured use of certain fertilisers, specific storage conditions for raw materials or demonstrating cooking temperatures are as low as possible. Benchmark levels are performance indicators used to verify the effectiveness of the mitigation measures, and are specific to different food groups.
French fry controversy
Controversy over the proposals first erupted in when Belgium’s tourism minister, Fabien Van Eeckhaut, suggested the regulation was threatening the country’s “heritage” and would make it impossible to produce the traditional speciality, frites.
The suggestion that Brussels is attempting to undermine regional foods was jumped on by the eurosceptic Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) party, which asked the commission how it intended to protect “Belgian, Italian and other European gastronomical specialities and traditions containing fried potatoes and grains”.
The Commission insisted that the regulation would not undermine or threaten these food types. In a written response commissioner for health and food safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, sought to reassure MEPs. “The foreseen regulatory measures will not prohibit certain traditional culinary practices or certain traditional foods," he wrote.
“The regulatory measures would oblige food business operators to apply mitigation measures (i.e. to choose options which result in a level of acrylamide as low as reasonably achievable) with respect to the culinary practices and the recipe of traditional foods, and without changing the nature and the organoleptic characteristics of the traditional food in question.”
However, delegates from the Austrian People’s Party were unconvinced and attempted to block the regulation, suggesting that the EC “wants to regulate the details of how French fries and baked pastries” are made.
The OVP’s EU commissioners, Othmar Karas and Elisabeth Köstinger, argued that the measures would place an onerous burden on restaurateurs.
Consumer group welcomes vote
European consumer group BEUC welcomed the outcome of the vote.
“We are delighted Members of the EU Parliament’s environment committee put consumers’ health first and voted against the acrylamide objection,” Camille Perrin, senior food policy officer at BEUC, said.
“It is high time food businesses finally took action to reduce acrylamide in their products. They can count on consumer groups to continue testing products to check they meet the new requirements.”
Perrin called for the EC to now move forward with the process by setting acrylamide limits in various food products. “Today’s vote is only a first step towards less acrylamide in Europeans’ food,” she said.