Monday, January 23, 2017

Is the Food Standards Agency fit for purpose?

Fans of Betteridge's Law will already know the answer....

This is about the latest food scare of course. Toast and “overcooked potatoes” which was later revealed to refer to roasted potatoes (and well-fried chips) are the supposed culprits this time. It's not the first time we've been warned about acrylamides, and probably won't be the last. It's all nonsense, sadly. The basic problem with the FSA approach is that it identifies and publicises chemicals as being likely to be a cancer causing agent, without any(*) consideration of the dose required. As David Spiegelhalter's excellent article explains, a typical human diet contains around 100th of the dose that has been observed to lead to a modest increase in the rate of tumours in animals. And despite all the studies that have been done, no-one has found any link between acrylamide and tumours in humans. But that doesn't stop the FSA generating scare stories about how we shouldn't toast bread properly, or roast our potatoes (I heard someone recommend 45 mins in a cool oven which would just produce soft greasy pallid lumps).

Incidentally, that article probably doesn't blow DS's horn sufficiently for people to realise how authoritative an expert he is. He is Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge. When he writes about something, he's probably right.

Anyway, I'm going to keep on roasting.

* not strictly true as a careful reading of David Spiegelhalter's article reveals. But the margin of safety has to be astronomical, rather than merely huge, in order for them to discount it.

1 comment:

Steve Bloom said...

Well, we do wonder about synergies, we do, but for the moment all the hormone mimics that continue to be freely dumped into the environment seem to be a larger worry.