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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 October, 2003, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Chemical found in baby food jars
Many babies are given food from jars
Baby food manufacturers have been urged to change the way they package their products amid fears over cancer.

The European Food Safety Authority says it has found traces of a potentially dangerous chemical in some jars.

Officials said there was no need for parents to stop giving their children food from jars because the cancer risk is extremely low.

However, they recommended that manufacturers consider introducing safer packaging.

Cancer-causing chemical

The chemical, semicarbazide (SEM), has been found in very small quantities in some jars of food.

The authority said the chemical was not found in any particular type of food but rather food that was packaged in a specific way.

The risk to consumers resulting from the possible presence of semicarbazide in foods, if any, is judged to be very small
Dr Sue Barlow,
European Food Safety Authority
This included food sold in glass jars with metal lids, containing sealant gaskets.

The report says: "The foods that have been reported to contain SEM include baby foods, fruit juices, jams and conserves, honey, ketchups and mayonnaise, pickles and sterilised vegetables and sauces."

Semicarbazide belongs to a family of chemicals which are known to be a weak cancer-causer in animals.

Scientists believe the chemical is produced during the heat treatment used to make sealing gaskets in the lids of glass jars and bottles worldwide.

The chemical seems to leach from the plastic into the food, the agency said.

Although the amount in food is uncertain and its human health effects unknown, the scientists concluded that the danger is very slight.

"The risk to consumers resulting from the possible presence of semicarbazide in foods, if any, is judged to be very small, not only for adults but also for infants," said Dr Sue Barlow, chair of the authority's expert panel.

In a statement, the authority said: "Experts believe it would be prudent to reduce the presence of semicarbazide in baby foods as swiftly as technological progress allows."

The announcement comes three months after representatives of the food industry approached the agency to alert officials that routine checks carried out for manufacturers by a private laboratory had discovered the chemical in the foods.

Industry action

The food authority recommended that the European Commission start monitoring the food industry to ensure companies replace the current type of seals swiftly, focusing on baby foods as an immediate priority.

We are not advising anybody, mothers or anybody else, to switch away from food in jars with screw caps.
Sir John Krebs,
Food Standards Agency
Sir John Krebs, chairman of the UK's Food Standards Agency, said there was no reason people should stop eating food from jars.

"We can't tell exactly what the size of the risk is but the experts say it is very small indeed," he told the BBC.

"We are not advising anybody, mothers or anybody else, to switch away from food in jars with screw caps.

"But, of course, with uncertainty we would understand if some mothers decided they want to switch to alternative forms of baby food, such as tins or dried or frozen or making it themselves."

Martin Paterson, deputy director general of the UK's Food and Drink Federation, said manufacturers were addressing the issue.

"As a precaution, a joint food and packaging industry taskforce is now working with the authorities to eliminate SEM from the metal twist caps used with glass jars," he said.

Monique Warnock of the Consumers' Association urged manufacturers to develop alternative packaging as soon as possible.

"The food industry identified this potential health risk.

"It needs to show its commitment to consumer safety by taking immediate action to find alternative sources of packaging as soon as possible, to ensure against any potential health risks."

The BBC's Vicki Young
"The risk is extremely small"

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