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Proposed Food Additive Risky, NFU Says

The National Farmers Union is urging Health Canada not to allow Asparaginase, a genetically modified enzyme currently used as a chemotherapy drug to treat leukemia, to be approved as a food additive.

The NFU sent a letter to Health Canada on Feb. 18, 2010 in response to a website-posted comment period on the proposed change.

NFU Alberta co-ordinator Margo Staniforth said in a release there is significant potential public risk associated with the use of Asparaginase as a food additive, while the proposed benefits are negligible.

Asparaginase, which is marketed by Novozymes and DSM, is already approved as a food additive in the U. S., Australia and other countries.

It is touted as reducing the likelihood of the formation of cancer-causing acrylamide in baked or fried food products.

Synthetic acrylamide is a carcinogen which is widely used in industrial processes like cement making, pulp and paper, oil drilling, ore processing, permanent-press fabrics and dye manufacturing. It is present in tobacco smoke, and is also used as a “soil conditioner” in conjunction with many herbicides. At high levels, such as those found in industrial uses, acrylamides have been found to cause cancer.

The presence of acrylamide in food was first detected in 2002, but it is unknown if this “naturally occurring acrylamide” has always been present in foods, the NFU release says. Injecting Asparaginase into foods is claimed to “reduce,” but not eliminate, the risk of acrylamide formation.

However, Asparaginase itself is risky, Staniforth says.

“Asparaginase is not a benign or harmless substance,” she said, noting it is commonly prescribed in the cancer-fighting drug Elspar. “The drug is used to treat leukemia and works by starving tumour cells of needed nutrients and slowing tumour cell growth.”

Staniforth said Asparaginase is a beneficial drug intended for a specific purpose, but its widespread use as a food additive is not justified given the levels of acrylamide formation in food are low.

She urged Health Canada to undertake further research into the origins of acrylamide formation in food, and to study whether any links exist between acrylamides in the environment and polyacrylamides contained in herbicides such as glyphosate.

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