The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has released a report which says that as much as 84 percent of the 38 common brands of pre-packaged breads have tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate which are considered to be hazardous to health. These chemicals used as additives in bread and flour have been banned by a number of countries since 1990 but in India they are permitted to be used. In 1999 the International Agency for research on Cancer (IARC) classified potassium bromate as possible carcinogenic to humans. When tested on laboratory animals it was found to cause tumours of the kidney, abdominal lining and thyroid cancer.
The European Union and UK were the first to ban these two chemical additives, followed by a number of other countries like Canada Australia, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka and a number of South American countries including Brazil. However, their use continues to be permitted in food regulations. According to the Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011, under regulation 3.1.17 in the category ‘Other substances to be used in Specified limits,’ both potassium bromate and potassium iodate per permitted to be used in bread and flour. The maximum level of use is 50ppm (parts per million) in bread while potassium bromate in flour for bakery can be used up to 20ppm. Both the chemicals are also mentioned in Appendix A which lists those additives that are permitted for use.
The All India Bread Manufacturer’s Association (AIBMA) has denied that there is widespread use of the potassium bromate and they say that a vast number of Indian bread manufacturers do not use these additives. However the CSE that tested breads, buns, ready to eat burger bread and ready to eat pizza bread at its Pollution Monitoring Laboratory and has found residues of these two chemicals in these baked products. The CSE also got the reports corroborated from a third party laboratory.
After the findings that indicate that the use of these chemicals is rampant, the CSE has asked the FSSAI to ban the use of these additives. It has said that one of the chemicals is 2B carcinogen which is possibly carcinogenic for humans and the other triggers thyroid disorders. Dr. Saurabh Arora, who heads the testing laboratory Auriga Research Limited, has said that bromate has been banned in water recently and so the use in bread should be considered as long as it is under permissible limits. However, he opines that the potential risk could be in a situation when someone consumes half a kilogram of bread on a daily basis. He said that there is a need to conduct more studies to determine the harmful effects of these chemicals.
On a global level potassium bromate was allowed to be used in flour as long as it did not leave residues in the end product. However, when bromate mixed flour is not baked for long enough, or is not baked at an appropriate temperature or when excess potassium bromate is added in the flour then the residues will be found to be above permitted levels. While the US has not banned the use, in India there has been a long debate about the use of these additives and the FSSAI had also formulated a draft regulation in this regard.
However, on the basis of the CSE report and on the recommendation of an FSSAI scientific panel the FSSAI has decided to ban the use of potassium bromate and will remove the same from its list of permitted additives and which will be notified soon. However, FSSAI say that they need to examine the evidence against the use of potassium iodate before restricting its use.