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Bread Contains Cancer-causing Chemicals: CSE; Health Ministry Orders Probe

Bread samples in Delhi contained cancer-causing chemicals, a study released on Monday said, prompting the Union Health Ministry to order a probe

Photo Credit : shutterstock

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Bread samples in Delhi contained cancer-causing chemicals, a study released on Monday (23 May) said, prompting the Union Health Ministry to order a probe.

Nearly 84 per cent of 38 commonly available brands of pre- packaged breads including pav and buns, tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate, banned in many countries as they are listed as "hazardous" for public health, the report by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said .

It claimed that while one of the chemicals is a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans), the other could trigger thyroid disorders but India has not ban their use.

CSE's Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) tested 38 commonly available branded varieties of pre-packaged breads, pav and buns, ready-to-eat burger bread and ready-to-eat pizza breads of popular fast food outlets from Delhi.

"We found 84 per cent samples positive with potassium bromate or iodate. We re-confirmed the presence of potassium bromate or iodate in a few samples through an external third-party laboratory. We checked labels and talked to industry and scientists.

"Our study confirms the widespread use of potassium bromate or iodate as well as presence of bromate or iodate residues in the final product," said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.

Reacting to the CSE report, Health Minister J P Nadda said,"We are seized of the matter. I have told my officials to report to me on an urgent basis. There is no need to panic. Very soon we will come out with the (probe) report."

The study found that 84 per cent (32/38) samples were found with potassium bromate or iodate in the range of 1.15-22.54 parts per million (ppm).

Around 79 per cent (19/24) samples of packaged bread, all samples of white bread, pav, bun and ready-to-eat pizza bread and 75 per cent (3/4) samples of ready-to-eat burger bread were positive.

CSE said, "High levels of potassium bromate/iodate were found in sandwich bread, pav, bun and white bread" involving virtually all top brands.

CSE has urged food regulator FSSAI to ban the use of potassium bromate and potassium iodate with immediate effect and prevent their routine exposure to Indian population.

CSE has urged food regulator FSSAI to ban the use of potassium bromate and potassium iodate with immediate effect and prevent their routine exposure to Indian population.

"The FSSAI should ban the use of potassium bromate in making bread with immediate effect. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) should also amend relevant available standards.

"Use of potassium iodate as a flour treatment agent in breads should not be allowed by the FSSAI. The BIS should amend relevant available standards in this case as well," CSE said.

CSE said it is time that India banned the use of potassium bromate to safeguard public health, ensured necessary labelling norms and removed this chemical from food supply.

"Bread and bakery products are an essential part of our daily diets today. Children are consuming them more than ever before. We need to prevent near-routine exposure of this possible cancer-causing chemical.

"There are safer alternatives present and cost of adopting those is insignificant. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) should ban the use of these chemicals with immediate effect," said Bhushan.

CSE researchers say that the FSSAI should also prohibit the use of potassium iodate as a flour treatment agent and it is not an approved additive in the EU and countries such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

The European Food Safety Agency, in its scientific opinion of 2014, mentions that chronic excessive iodine intake may accelerate the development of sub-clinical thyroid disorders to overt hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, increase the incidence of autoimmune thyroiditis and increase the risk of thyroid cancer.

"Iodine supplementation through salt has been adequate for Indians. Therefore, the use of potassium iodate in bread could lead to higher iodine intake in people who consume large quantities of bread," added Bhushan.

CSE said that in 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified potassium bromate as possibly carcinogenic (cancer causing) to humans.

It was found to cause tumors of the kidney, thyroid and cancer of the abdominal lining in laboratory animals.

Considering potassium bromate as a 'genotoxic carcinogen', the JECFA (WHO/FAO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives) in 1992 said that "use of potassium bromate as a flour treatment agent was not appropriate", it said.

The EU had already banned its use in 1990 and so did the UK. Subsequently, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nigeria, Peru and Columbia have also decided against its use.

"Globally, potassium bromate was allowed to be used on the assumption that the bromate residues would not be present in the end product.

"This assumption failed across the world. Residues were being detected even after reducing the allowed limits of use and therefore, countries started banning it. Our study confirms that residues of potassium bromate are present in bread sold in India," added Bhushan.

The food safety regulations of India allow use of potassium bromate as flour treatment agent in bread and other bakery products.

Potassium bromate is a powerful oxidizing agent, use of which makes bread fluffy, soft and gives it a good finish.

"When CSE contacted companies whose products were found with potassium bromate or potassium iodate, six out of 12 came forward to deny use of these chemicals. Only one company was found to be labelling the use of potassium bromate," said Amit Khurana, programme manager, Food Safety and Toxins team at CSE.

(PTI)