Nanny State Health Warning: Burnt Toast Can Give You Cancer

Don’t eat burnt toast or fish ‘n’ chips or over crispy roast potatoes – or you may end up getting cancer, a UK government agency has warned.

According to the widely-ridiculed warning by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), issued today in a campaign launched on its website, these foods should be avoided because they all contain higher levels of acrylamide, a chemical which has caused cancer in mice.

The campaign – called Go For Gold – says that acrylamide is produced when starchy foods such as bread and potatoes are cooked for long periods at higher temperatures such as baking, frying, grilling, toasting, and roasting.

The FSA claims:

The scientific consensus is that acrylamide has the potential to cause cancer in humans.

Which, according to its critics, is precisely the kind of heavy-handed, Nanny-State-driven junk science which gives heavy-handed, Nanny-State-driven junk science a bad name.

As Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs says, this is a classic case of “mission creep” from a government agency.

“They should be dealing with real safety issues like the handful of restaurants who are putting out genuinely dangerous food,” he said.

“This sort of thing undermines public faith in scientific advice and terrifies people.

“People just don’t know what to eat anymore because they’re not being given clear advice.”

Indeed. Neither Cancer Research UK nor the European Food Standards Agency have been able to find a major health risk issue, despite their best efforts.

However, there is no good evidence of harm from humans consuming acrylamide in their diet: Cancer Research UK say that “At the moment, there is no strong evidence linking acrylamide and cancer.

This lack of evidence is not for want of trying. A massive report from the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) lists 16 studies and 36 publications, but concludes

In the epidemiological studies available to date, AA intake was not associated with an increased risk of most common cancers, including those of the GI or respiratory tract, breast, prostate and bladder. A few studies suggested an increased risk for renal cell, and endometrial (in particular in never-smokers) and ovarian cancer, but the evidence is limited and inconsistent. Moreover, one study suggested a lower survival in non-smoking women with breast cancer with a high pre-diagnostic exposure to AA but more studies are necessary to confirm this result. (p185)

So how did this nonsense come about?

The quango was set up in 2000 under Tony Blair in response to a spate of food poisonings in restaurants. Few would argue that ensuring basic standards of hygiene and safety in the food supply is a legitimate public health goal, but the FSA soon got bored of that and became part of the nanny state. Amongst its dubious achievements are telling football fans to substitute sparkling water and grapes for beer and crisps when watching the World Cup, defining cheese as ‘junk food’ and lobbying for bans on advertising.

It is a classic example of bureaucratic expansion. As its mission crept, its budget grew, and although it has been trimmed somewhat in the era of so-called austerity its annual income exceeds £130 million and it apparently still has time to tell people not to fluff their roast potatoes.

Tony Blair; a £130 million with nothing worthwhile to spend it on; dodgy scientists; elf ‘n’ safety; the Nanny State.

Suddenly all becomes clear as to where this advice came from. And why it should be completely ignored.


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