Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Stir-fried nonsense is just scare-mongering

My letter to SCMP, today:
Another day another health scare.
You give front page coverage to Emily Tsang's piece on the alleged dangers of acrylamide ("Stir fried greens raise cancer risk", 30 July).  I confess to never having heard of acrylamide before your front-page story.   But your headline rang a bell for me: of the innumerable scare-mongering reports we have had over the years on all manner of food products and drinks. So I thought I'd look into the claim that stir-fried greens are a cancer risk.
 Ms Tsang quotes figures for the amount of acrylamide in stir-fried vegetables, but gives no context.  Specifically: what is a considered a safe amount for humans?  She quotes Dr Phillip Ho: "... the amount of acrylamide required to be a risk to health had not been established internationally....".
 However, cursory research shows that we do indeed know something of what the risk amount might be, even if it has not been specifically "established".
According to reports by the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and studies by Sweden and France, humans would need to consume the following multiples of current average daily intake of acrylamide to have possible effects on health: to observe neuropathy, 500 times; for effects on fertility, 2,000 times; for cancer effects, 900 times.  In other words, we would have to consume vastly larger -- impossibly larger -- amounts of acrylamide for there to be even a theoretical risk.  Other Swedish, French and Swiss studies have established no links between acrylamide and cancer in humans.
 Ms Tsang might have quoted these reports and studies had she carried out proper due diligence.  But then, I guess, there would be no story.
 What's needed is more honest and balanced reporting on food risks, not more stir-fried scare-mongering.
Peter F