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GENEVA - Scientists from Europe, North America and Japan began an urgent meeting Tuesday to consider information on the newly suspected substance acrylamide, The Associated Press reports.
Meanwhile, the U.S. consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest released findings in Washington from a study confirming inital tests reported in Sweden that found high levels of acrylamide in some fried foods.
Acrylamide, used to produce plastics and dyes and to purify drinking water, has been shown to be carcinogenic in animal experiments and is suspected of causing cancer among people exposed to high levels for long periods.
Initial alarm was raised in April when a Swedish study that showed some starch-based foods cooked at high temperatures contained acrylamide was published. Subsequent studies in Norway, Britain and Switzerland basically backed up the findings of Sweden's National Food Administration, officials at the World Health Organization said.
However, a number of scientists have voiced misgivings about the validity of the Swedish results, which were based on 100 foods, and were released at a government news conference rather than passing through normal peer review procedures in a scientific journal.
The U.S. federal Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, said it has developed its own method to test precise levels of acrylamide in foods and has begun testing dozens of different products.
"We're also trying to see ... why the acrylamide is developing under these various cooking processes," FDA food safety chief Janice Oliver told The Associated Press.
Until scientists have completed enough research to tell what the different levels in food may mean for health, consumers shouldn't panic, Oliver said. "Consumers should eat a balanced diet consisting of a wide variety of foods from a wide variety of sources," the FDA food safety chief said.
Food industry representatives criticized the studies and warnings that consumers should cut down on eating fried foods, saying the study findings were not yet confirmed.
"There's no indication that the low levels of acrylamide found in some foods cause any human health risk," Gene Grabowski of the Grocery Manufacturers of America said. "Acrylamide has been present in foods ever since foods have been baked or fried, and we don't have any conclusive evidence right now that there's a reason to change dietary habits."