The bitter side to silver-foiled sweets!
=(PICTURE)Updated: Apr 12, 2006 21:17 IST
Millions of Indians regularly take in toxic, cancer-causing metals when they eat edible silver foil used to wrap sweets and betel nut products, a new study released on Monday said.
The thin layer of silver foil found at sweet and tobacco shops throughout India contain significant amounts of carcinogenic nickel, lead, chromium and cadmium, a study carried out by the scientists of Industrial Toxicology Research Centre said.
"People consume toxic metals while eating sweets wrapped with silver foil," Dr Mukul Das, who led the study told AFP in Lucknow.
Indians regularly buy silver-foiled sweets for weddings, special occasions and everyday snacks. The study found Indians eat around 2,75,000 kilograms (605,000 pounds) of silver foil each year.
The contaminated silver is also found wrapped in leaves for "paan masala," a chewy concoction of betel nut and spices.
The authors said that silver foil in sweets or betel nut products should be banned or only be used under strict supervision.
Dr SK Khanna, co-author of the report, said once they enter the human body, these impure silver foils release heavy metals like nickel, cadmium and chromium. These are all carcinogenic metals and may lead to cancer.
Silver metal is transformed into the thin foil used in sweets by workers in small factories who fill the metal in a leather bag and beat it with a wooden club.
"No purification process is carried out before making foil," the report said.
According to the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act of India, silver foil with a purity of 99.9 percent can be used in edible form.
Khanna noted for example that dentists in India regularly use pure silver to fill cavities in decaying teeth.
B.L. Sharma, a food inspector in Uttar Pradesh, admitted that his agency does not test for impurities in silver foil.
"In fact our labs are not equipped to carry out these tests," he said.
Radhey Mohan, proprietor of Mohan Sweets in Lucknow, however said there are no complaints from customers.
"Silver is always pure. I never heard anyone complaining about use of silver foil," he said.
The use of silver dates to the traditions of India's former Mughal rulers centuries ago who used the foil to garnish food.