One of urban India’s staple food products, the bread that we buy off the shelves every day, could be laced with toxic chemicals which are serious health hazards, finds a new study done in Delhi by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
The study, conducted by CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML), says Indian bread manufacturers use potassium bromate and potassium iodate for treating flour while making bread. The use of these chemicals in the bread-making sector has been banned in many countries as they are listed as hazardous for public health: one is a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans) and the other could trigger thyroid-related disorders. India does not ban their use.
The 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/iodate. We re-confirmed the presence of potassium bromate/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/iodate as well as presence of bromate/iodate residues in the final product,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.
He pointed out, “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.”
The food safety regulations of India allow use of potassium bromate as flour treatment agent in bread and other bakery products.
“Industry members and experts told us that potassium bromate is widely used as it is allowed by law and offers high-quality finish to the final product. When CSE contacted companies whose products were found with potassium bromate/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,” says Amit Khurana, programme manager, Food Safety and Toxins team at CSE.
High levels of potassium bromate/iodate were found in sandwich bread, pav, bun and white bread. Besides, study revealed that products of some of the popular multinational fast food outlets selling pizza and burger were found positive with potassium bromate/iodate.
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. “Children are consuming bread and bakery products 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,” says Bhushan.
CSE recommends that 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. Besides, 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, said the green body.