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Just days after cancer scare, Indian bread-makers promise to clean up their loaves

Reuters/Adnan Abidi
Falling in line.
By Suneera Tandon
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

It’s taken the country’s largest bread makers only four days to promise a ”voluntary withdrawal” of suspected carcinogenic ingredients from their loaves.

A report released earlier this week by research and advocacy organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) India exposed the presence of potassium bromate—a chemical that could possibly cause cancer—in 38 samples of branded bread sold in the capital city of Delhi. These include names such as Harvest Gold and Britannia, and even breads and buns served in fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Domino’s. Potassium bromate is used as an additive to soften bread.

On May 26, panic-stricken bread-makers accepted CSE’s recommendations and promised to withdraw potassium bromate from their products.

“We will not use potassium bromate and iodate if people don’t like it. We were using them as their use was allowed by our government and scientists. We have other enzymes and emulsifiers as their alternate,” said Adil Hassan, heading a delegation of All India Bread Manufacturers’ Association, according to a report by IANS. Hassan is also the managing director of Harvest Gold Industries which was named in the report.

Companies in the organised sector sought a couple of days‘ time to pull the ingredients out of their bakeries.

The move reflects the industry’s desperation to prevent any damage to sales. It also shows the incongruous standards set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

While the use of potassium bromate as an additive is banned in some regions, including the European Union, for its carcinogenic properties, FSSAI so far allowed 50 parts per million of it to be used in bread. All major bread makers said that they abide by FSSAI rules.

However, after the fiasco, which hit the stocks of India’s largest food companies, regulatory authorities were quick to respond.

“A scientific panel had recommended removal of potassium bromate from the list of additives. So we have already decided to take it out from the list. Soon it will be notified,” FSSAI CEO Pawan Kumar Agarwal said on May 23. “As far as potassium iodate is concerned, we are examining the evidence and soon a decision will be taken.”

India’s food safety standards have come under scrutiny over the past year or more after Swiss major Nestle was accused of violating norms. The company’s popular Maggi noodle brand was alleged to contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) and quantities of lead much higher than that allowed by law. It took Nestle India over six months to emerge out of the row.

But bread makers seem to have corrected course quickly.

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