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Last Updated : May 24, 2016 08:03 PM IST | Source: CNBC-TV18

CSE explains: How hazardous chemicals in bread harm you

Both Potassium Bromate and Potassium Iodate are banned in European Union and China and is considered "hazardous", said Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), who also the co- authored the Report On Bread.

A report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is creating ripples across the food industry and consumers. The report concludes that 84 percent of the samples of breads, buns and pav (including ready-to-eat pizzas and burgers) tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate.

Both these chemicals are banned in European Union and China as they are considered "hazardous", said Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), who also co-authored the report.

The research was initiated to understand how widespread their usage in India is, Bhushan told CNBC-TV18, adding although these chemicals can be used as flour treatment agents, measures should be taken that the final product is devoid of them.

While potassium bromate is a class-2B carcinogen, potassium iodate increases the risk of thyroid-related problems due to extra iodine, he added.

As far as the developments regarding this case are concerned, the government (FSSAI) has approved removing Potassium Bromate as a food additive.

Below is the verbatim transcript of Chandra Bhushan's interview with Shereen Bhan on CNBC-TV18.

Q: Let me start by asking you for what the trigger was for this particular report, I understand that you started work on this about a year ago. Why did you decide to go after potassium bromate and potassium iodate in specific and what was the experience while you were putting this report together did you get any cooperation from the regulator, what about the companies that you were probing as well?

A: First of all the trigger was that these two chemicals are being banned across the world. In fact, in 2012 Codex (Food Code created by the US regulator) made potassium bromate an illegal chemical and therefore if you have potassium bromate, a recipient country is within its right to reject your product if you are exporting that product.

So in 2012 Codex banned it, but the ban started way back in 1990 by European Union, then China has banned so the trigger was that these two chemicals are being banned across the world because one is a class 2B carcinogen. Other is likely to increase your intake of iodine.

Q: I am sorry to interrupt you, but I just want to take this forward because as you pointed out, potassium bromate and the likelihood of it being a carcinogen is not news, in fact, if I go back all the way back to 1990s that’s when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has said that it could possibly cause cancer, you got the EU action banning potassium bromate, Canada, China, Brazil, UK doesn’t allow this. I just want to understand what has led to the trigger in 2016?

A: The reason we did this study was to establish first of all how widespread is the use in India that’s point number one. We have a standard for using it as a flour treatment agent, but these chemicals are not supposed to be there in the final product.

It is important for you to understand that our standard says you can use potassium bromate and/or iodate as a flour treatment agent at a level of 50 milligram per kg, but there is no standard in the final product and assumption is that these products, these chemicals will get degraded during baking process and therefore you will not have residues of these in the final product.

Our study was to check whether these residues are there in the final product or not and therefore our test establishes that these two chemicals, which are harmful chemicals are there in the final product like it has been found in other parts of the world and therefore it is important for India to ban these two chemicals that are not required, there are alternatives available and to make bread safer for us to eat.

The trigger was to establish whether we are finding these two chemicals in the final product or not and if we are finding it then we have all the more reason to quickly ban these two chemicals.

Q: So now let just explain this to our viewers because as far as the USFDA is concerned for instance, the FDA has approved the use of potassium bromate but up to 75 parts per million in flour even as far as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is concerned potassium bromate and both potassium iodate are allowed manufacture say that potassium bromate turns into a salt, but the residue will remain if it either not mix in correct ratios or not cooked properly. The assumption as per your study seems to be that perhaps either the ratios are not accurate or its not being cooked properly would that be correct?

A: Across the world, this assumption has been found to be wrong. Europe also in 80s allowed the use of potassium bromate in bread with the same assumption that you will not find the residue in the final product, but they found it and therefore they banned it.

So this assumption that if I cooked the bread well and therefore my bromate will get converted into bromite and potassium iodate will evaporate, that's not the correct assumption and therefore across the world they have banned it.

The same assumption is not true for India and that’s what our study establishes that the standard set with an assumption that there will be no bromate and iodate in the final product is a wrong assumption and therefore we need to quickly ban these two chemicals as flour treatment agent in bread making and bakery product.

Q: The government seems to be in sync with what you are saying because the FSSAI has in fact decided now to remove potassium bromate from the list of 11,500 allowed additives that is what we are given to understand. The notification hasn’t been issued, but it will be issued shortly though, they haven’t come to the same conclusion as far as potassium iodate is concerned and a committee will continue to mull over potassium iodate and its use, but at least on bromate they have taken a decision to remove it from the list of allowed additives. Are you satisfied with that?

A: Absolutely, we welcome the decision of the government to remove potassium bromate as an additive in our food very, very wise and quick decision. As far as iodate is concerned, we are very concerned about iodate and the reason is very simple, there is no reason for us to get iodine from bread. We get enough iodine from salt. We all consume fortified iodine fortified salt.

Now if you get less iodine you are going to get goitre and therefore we consume iodine fortified salt, but if you are going to consume more iodine, you are going to get thyroid and other thyroid related problem and you must understand that thyroid related problem is increasing at an alarming rate in India. We are not saying it is happening only because of bread, but we do believe that there is no reason for us to get extra iodine, extra iodine and it could be very high quantity of iodine from bread.

Q: But I am not for a minute questioning the fact that CSE or to bring issues related to food safety into the public forum, but should it not be handled differently because it does tend to create a sense of panic, it does tend to create perhaps a sense of fear within the consumers, within also regulators on how to handle the situation. Would it not have perhaps made more sense for the CSE to have worked with the regulator because the regulator is pretty much in sync with what you are attempting to do as well, so could it not had been handled a little better?

A: First of all, we are a public institution. Everything that CSE does is public information. Our job is to increase awareness of consumer, our job is to work with people as well as work with government and companies to make sure that our standards are improved, that we have safer food. I would not agree with you that we could have done it in a hush-hush manner.

Q: I am not saying in a hush-hush manner, but perhaps if you had reached out to the regulator, the regulator would have told you that they are already looking into bromate and looking at removal, then you may not necessarily have had to go to town with this toxic bread news which causes fear and panic. Does it not?

A: What you call as panic, we at CSE very strongly believe it is important to increase awareness of people on food safety. With the fact that our lifestyle is changing, we are consuming more and more processed and factory made foods, Indian consumers need to know what they are eating and therefore we would not call it as panic, we could call it very clearly as our role to increase awareness of people. As far as your question on working with regulator, I must say that we were in touch with FSSAI.

FSSAI did come back to us saying that they are looking at all the additives. We started this study in May-June 2015 it took us 9 months of rigorous work to confirm what we have found and put it out to the public, therefore we were in touch with FSSAI. This is not an issue that FSSAI is not aware of. 2012 Codex banned this chemical, before that WHO FAO has said you shouldn’t use it. So I am not saying that, I am happy that FSSAI today has banned it, they could have done it long back.

Q: No you are absolutely right, they ought to have a much more dynamic review process which is what the CEO has promised to do, but remember the regulations that companies are now complying with the 2011 regulations and potassium bromate and potassium iodate continue to be as of today allowed under the Indian Food Safety Standard Regulations by the FSSAI, so companies are not wrong when they say that they are complying with the Indian law, but a lot of companies have come out and clarified here on CNBC-TV18 that they are not using bromate or iodate?

A: There is an interpretation problem as far as regulation is concerned, we do not have any standard for potassium bromate or potassium iodate in final product. The product that we eat there is no standard. No standard doesn’t mean that you can bung as much potassium bromate and iodate that you want. No standard mean that you are not supposed to have them.

So it's common sense that you are allowed to use in the flour, but you are not supposed to have in the final product but going back to our previous discussion that the assumption is that it will get degraded and it is not happening. So if companies are saying they are complying with the law they are right, they are complying with the law as far as use in flour is concerned, they are not complying with the law as far as presence of this chemical in the final product is concerned.

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First Published on May 24, 2016 07:31 pm
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