Acrylamide has been added to the candidate list for inclusion on the European Union’s Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) following a unanimous decision by an expert panel.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) announced today that acrylamide is one of 15 new substances that its member state committee backed to be approved for the register of most hazardous chemicals in the region. The candidate list will be updated in January 2010 and “decisions on the need to subject these substances to authorisation will be taken later”, said a statement from the agency.
The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the European Union (CIAA) said even if acrylamide were added to the list at a later date, it would not have a significant impact on the food sector, since the industry had been taking steps to tackle the issue for a number of years.
Under the ECHA proposal, acrylamide has been listed as a category two carcinogen and a category two mutagen. The majority of acrylamide is used in the production of polymers which are then used to manufacture food packaging. But the primary source of exposure is from food.
The latest decision is a further step in the process that could see acrylamide added to the SVHC list after the move was first mooted in September following concern from the Netherlands.
Substances of Very High Concern
SVHCs are those seen as presenting hazards that have serious consequences. These include being carcinogenic, or having other harmful properties and remaining in the environment for a long time. Chemicals that gradually build up in animals – bioaccumulative – can also be added to the list which has been compiled as part of the EU’s REACH legislation.
One of the aims of regulation is to control the use of such substances via authorisation and encourage industry to substitute these substances for safer ones. The category also includes substances demonstrated to be of equivalent concern, such as endocrine disruptors.
Acrylamide first came onto the health and safety agenda in 2002 when scientists at the Swedish Food Administration reported unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide in carbohydrate-rich foods and published evidence linking the chemical to cancer in laboratory rats. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering issuing guidelines on acrylamide content in food and is currently seeking comments from industry on the issue.
Impact on food industry
The CIAA said the fall-out for the European food industry if acrylamide were added to the SVHC list would be limited thanks to action the sector has been taken since concerns over the chemical surfaced.
“Adding acrylamide to this list will not have any significant impact on the industry as we are already taking acrylamide very seriously since its onset in April 2002,” a spokeswoman told FoodProductionDaily.com.
The industry body said its 'acrylamide toolbox' defines mitigation strategies for the industry in the relevant product categories.
She added: “CIAA's expert process contaminants group is collating mitigation and reduction processes on a continuous basis and is updating the toolbox on an annual basis on behalf of the industry. Industry is following closely the use and application of the toolbox via the various sectors and the results of which are fed back into this toolbox.”