"Cancer causing agent present in bread" - Another media created panic situation

In last few days a news by CSE caused panic among the consumers of bread - 

What’s in our bread? - CSE’s new study points to presence of possible cancer-causing chemi...

Reminding the past cases like pesticide in cold drinks (2004), lead in Maggi (2015), another sensational report shattered the faith of consumers on Indian Food Regulations and India Processed Food manufacturers. I am also a consumer before being a food technologist. But, being a food techie, I at least have faith on Food Regulations. So, I thought to wait for some time, discuss with other experts and then share view of foodpathshala on this entire issue. As I had given my strong support to Maggi during MSG case, again I am supporting bread manufacturers in this episode. They have not done any crime by adding bromate or iodate. These are permitted under Indian law. Its a different question whether it should be permitted under law or not. If someone finds some issue in regulations, they should go to the scientific community and raise their concern, not publish are report and create panic among consumers and then among the food manufacturers. 

I got chance to get view of Mr Pradip Chakraborty, Former Director, FSSAI on this entire episode and thought to share with all of you.

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Food and its Safety is the most important and critical subject due to its sheer significance affecting each and every person. Any apprehension about its safety causes ripple effect with enormous consequences in the minds of all. Thus, such issues require extreme care and caution. 


In last 2 days, news of CSE’s (Centre for Science and Environment) study and recommendation on Potassium Bromate (KBrO3) and Potassium Iodate (KIO3) giving impression that BREAD is a definite source of CANCER has caused exteme forform of apprehension and anxiety in the entire population of the country. 

CSE’s laboratory testing of 38 samples of bread found out 22.54 ppm as the maximum concentrate of Potassium Bromite/Potassium Iodate amongst all the samples, about 45% of 50 ppm, permissible under clause C(7) of Appendix-A to the FSS (Food Products Standards & Food Additive) Regulation, 2011. CSE sought ban of these Food Additives (mischievously reported as chemicals) in India citing some reports of its carcinogenic effect and instances of their ban in some countries. In other words, except laboratory testing of some samples, CSE has nothing new to demonstrate anything adverse to challenge the existing risk assessment analysis of FSSAI or even justify any demand for a fresh risk assessment.

 

The laboratory testing itself is only to ascertain the traces of these Food Additives, which in any case is within the permissible Indian Food Standards. The report cited by CSE is of the year of 1999 and the bans of different countries so referred to by CSE is of different years, which have already been factored in the existing risk assessment of FSSAI undertaken in the year of 2011-12. The entire demand of CSE is therefore resting on its own assessment, which is no new innovation except an yet another view demanding the ban.

As per CSE, all the companies, who replied to it’s query, denied using Potassium Bromite/Potassium Iodate. Instead, as they claim, they are using bread improvers such as Calcium Carbonate (INS 170), Amylases (INS 1100), L-Cystein Monohydrocloride (INS 920), Enzyme Protein technology derived from natural resources.

 
Safety of food has different facets and contours from the stand point of “general-parlance”, “regulatory-exigencies” and “scientific-community”. It is a complex scientific and regulatory issue and the same is ascertain through a process of risk assessment, a scientific based process consisting of 4 steps of hazard identification, hazard characterization, exposure assessment and risk characterization. Thus no attempts whatsoever, knowingly or unknowingly, should be made to confuse people by mixing aforesaid 3 different contexts of Food Safety.

FSSAI, the Indian Food Authority, lays down science based Food standards after extensive scientific assessment by eminent scientists in consonance with the international practices after extensive consultation with various stakeholders. Therefore, FSSAI’s permissible standards for Potassium Bromite/Potassium Iodate as an improver for bread and biscuits have reasonable scientific backing and necessary legal justification. 

As we all know, even the scientific community themselves are not in unison on many issues. Food Science and its safety itself is a continuous evolving process. While International Agency on Research for Cancer (IARC) suggests that Potassium Bromite/Potassium Iodate is a possible carcinogenic, it has not arrived at an unbridled conclusion due to absence of uncontroverted evidence keeping in view various other factors. It is important to note that IARC’s conclusion is based on hazard evaluation where as many food regulators of the world including FSSAI fix Food standards based on proper risk assessment. Risk assessment indicates that the tolerance limit is safe to human being. Risk assessment is done after rigorous toxicological investigation, exposure assessment through food, weight of the human being and food habits.


Centre for Health, Environment and Food Safety (CHEFS), a techno-legal Indian body having substantial expertise in these fields principally located at Delhi, declares that a number of ingredients, which were considered as carcinogenic and prohibited earlier, were approved after risk assessment. Such as:


      1. Styvia was banned by United States Food and Drugs Authority (USFDA) in 1992 on anonymous complaint. Japan considered styvia as natural sweetener and allowed it to continue. Subsequently, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) after thorough study declared Styvia as safe upto certain limits. On the basis of EFSA, USFDA also lifted ban on Styvia and FSSAI also permitted use of Styvia upto certain limit.

      2. Copper and Zinc also considered as toxin for a long time. After thorough study, World Health Organisation (WHO) declared them as micronutrients upto certain limits permissible in Food. FSSAI also approved Copper and Zinc as micronutrients.


Need of the hour is, a fresh risk assessment can be carried out by the FSSAI in consultation with all the stakeholders including scientists, its own Scientific Committee and Scientific Panel to factor any new data and/or new development. It has been reiterated by the eminent scientists of CHEFS that an issue relating to science should be left to the scientific community and the regulators to come to a conclusion before forming any final opinion.

 

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