Regulator sat on decision to ban cancer-causing ingredient in bread for 4 years
A recent study found 85% of bread and bakery samples tested in Delhi contained potassium bromate, a known carcinogen. An HT investigation has now revealed the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had made up its mind to ban the chemical’s use as a food additive four years ago but never implemented its decision.
Potassium Bromate — used to make bread rise — is known to cause cancer of the thyroid, kidney and abdominal lining, and is banned in several countries including the European Union, Canada, China, Australia and New Zealand. The WHO, Food and Agriculture Organisation, and International Agency for Research on Cancer have all found it to be potentially carcinogenic.
Following last month’s revelations by the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment, the FSSAI said it would issue a notification to remove potassium bromate from the list of permitted food additives.
Records of FSSAI meetings accessed by HT, however, show that on June 6, 2012, the food regulator “approved the recommendation” of its scientific committee to ban the “use of potassium bromate as a food additive”. The committee had reached this conclusion at its meeting on December 23, 2011. It backed its recommendation by saying safer alternatives were available in the market.
Asked why the ban wasn’t implemented all these years, FSSAI CEO Pawan Agarwal said, “The notification is a long-drawn process. There has been no consensus among scientists on the carcinogenicity of potassium bromate. The United States has not banned it yet. Plus, the bread industry told us it would not use bromate and we believed it. We were shocked to know about the CSE findings.”
The FSSAI is still to issue a formal order banning bromate though bread manufacturers, in the wake of the CSE study, announced they would stop using the rising agent.
Chandra Bhushan, CSE deputy director general who was part of the Delhi tests, said his organisation had approached the FSSAI several times seeking a notification banning bromate after the regulator approved the scientific committee’s recommendation in 2012. But when the FSSAI made no such move, “we decided to carry out the lab tests as we believed it was important to remove bromate from bread in the interest of public health”.
The think tank’s report said bromate “was allowed based on the assumption that no residue would be found in the final product. However, studies began to find detectable residues of bromate in finished products”.