After Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) released its report on the presence of potassium bromate and potassium iodate in 38 bread samples, the use of the chemicals in the manufacture of bread has come under scrutiny.
Potassium bromate is an oxidising agent — it makes bread fluffy and gives it a good finish. Potassium iodate is also used as a treating agent for flour.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India stipulates the permissible limit for both chemicals as 50 ppm. However, sources said an expert committee had recommended withdrawing its use late last year.
“Our expert committee in bread products panel had recommended removing potassium bromate from the list of additives. We had decided to take it out from the list from around January, and a draft notification had been issued. The formal notification is awaited,” said a senior scientist.
Many countries had banned the use of both chemicals after safety concerns started emerging in the 1990s. “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 as residues were being detected even after reducing the allowed limits of use. Therefore, countries started banning it. Our study confirms that residues of potassium bromate are present in bread sold in India,” said CSE deputy director Chandra Bhushan.
In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified potassium bromate as possibly carcinogenic to humans. The European Union had already banned its use in 1990 and so did the UK. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nigeria, Peru and Columbia followed suit. CODEX Alimentarius, an international body which sets safety standards for food commodities, formally withdrew specifications of potassium bromate in 2012.
The CSE said it was time India banned potassium bromate. “Bread is an essential part of our daily diet today. We need to prevent near-routine exposure of this possible cancer-causing chemical,” said Bhushan.