James N. Klapthor

Quick to make international headlines and cause a flurry of activity on the subject of acrylamide was research released in Sweden in April claiming that high-carbohydrate foods cooked at high temperatures—such as French fries, potato chips, and baked bread—may contain high levels of the cancer-causing agent.

Reuters news service broke the story internationally, sending the Associated Press to IFT for quick-to-reach experts on the subject of carcinogens. Mary Ellen Camire, University of Maine, and Carl Winter, University of California–Davis, responded to the call and provided AP and its audience with an appeal for caution when addressing research which had yet to be brought under formal review.

In the article “Study Links High Carbs to Cancer” published April 24, Winter was quoted, “I think we need to take a step back a little bit and wait for greater discussion of the issue and see the findings presented in more detail.” Winter, the chair of the IFT Food Science Communicators committee, said further, “I would caution consumers to be a little patient here. Cancer is a very scary word, but one has to understand how these tests are done.” The article called Camire skeptical of the reported link to cancer, and she reminded readers that whole-grain breads and potatoes do contain a lot of important nutrients. “The risk-to-benefit ratio is hard to estimate,” she said. “We eat a lot of strange chemicals, but that’s life. You just have to get a balance.”

Camire was then asked to provide expert commentary on the subject for Time magazine, which published the article “Do French Fries Cause Cancer?” online on May 6. “Just because you can detect something doesn’t mean it’s significant,” said Camire, who also noted that the tools for detecting the presence of minute quantities of contaminants are far more refined than the understanding of how the body deals with them.

Time.com attracts nearly 3 million unique visitors to its Web site every month. Associated Press articles are published by 1,700 newspapers and broadcast by 5,500 television and radio stations worldwide.

The finer points of pureed fiber were pointed out in The New York Times on April 23, in “Finer Fiber,” a question-and-answer column featuring Christina Stark, Cornell University. “For all practical purposes, neither soluble nor insoluble fiber is affected by pureeing in your kitchen,” said Stark, and “if cream of broccoli soup or a fruit smoothie . . . is the form in which you will eat fruit and vegetables, by all means choose it.” Stark went on to inform readers that soluble fiber is more beneficial for cholesterol reduction, as it binds to cholesterol and carries it out of the body, while insoluble fiber aids digestion and helps to avoid constipation. The Times circulates more than 1 million newspapers daily.

While there has been a pause in coverage of terrorism and its risk against the U.S. food supply, the issue is not being overlooked, as USA Today magazine demonstrated in its April issue with the article, “Attacks on Food Supply Unlikely to Succeed,” in which the monthly magazine utilized the perspectives of Douglas Archer, University of Florida. “News reports have raised fears about terrorists attacking the nation’s food supply,” said Archer, “but when you examine the list of known biological and chemical agents, not many would be successful at harming people on a large scale.”

Archer told the publication that viruses and bacteria that could affect cattle, swine or plants might be easy to spread, but it is unlikely that those attacks would bring serious harm to humans. “The potential damaging effects of terrorist attacks on the food supply would mostly be financial and psychological,” he said. Archer noted that American capitalism and free-market competition is an effective protection against widespread terrorism because it allows large numbers of manufacturers and distributors to compete in the same industry, providing built-in protection against large-scale attack. USA Today magazine boasts a monthly circulation of more than 250,000.

Media Relations Manager