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Fries: The Other Cancer Sticks

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Acrylamide is a tricky substance. On one hand, the chemical, which is released in starchy foods when they are fried or baked at high heats, was linked to cancer in animals in a 2002 Swediish study-and that was the nicest thing that had yet been said about it. Previously, acrylamide had only been thought of as useful for treating sewage and a handful of other industrial tasks. On the other hand, potatoes are from Idaho.

Or so goes the reasoning by Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who lobbied in California last week to block French fries from a list of foods that would carry warnings saying they could possibly cause cancer. Kempthorne says identifying Idaho's $2 billion crop as a likely cancer contributor could hurt interstate commerce. The California list would be a result of a 1986 citizen's right-to-know law, but we agree, Gov.: "Right to know" doesn't roll off the tongue as smoothly as "Sure, I'll supersize that!"

According to the measure being backed by Kempthorne, acrylamide-containing foods would be exempted from the warnings if it can be determined that the substance occurs naturally within the food, and is only released in the cooking process. In other words, "We'll give you this here bomb, ya see, only it's up to you not to blow yourself up with it."

Obviously our own government is not the best source of information on this topic. So let's look to our neighbors to the north, who have been involved in acrylamide research since the original study was done. According to Health Canada's Web site (www.hc-sc.gc.ca), acrylamide "may be a human health concern," potatoes and chips carry the highest levels of it, and "Reducing acrylamide in foods is a primary step in reducing Canadians' exposure to acrylamide." There, was that so difficult? The big-hearted Canucks also offer a guide to consumers on how to reduce acrylamide consumption when preparing fried and baked goods at home. Thanks for the heads up, eh? We aren't getting squat from the hosers down here.