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  Bread you eat can cause cancer: CSE

Bread you eat can cause cancer: CSE

Published : May 24, 2016, 2:28 am IST
Updated : May 24, 2016, 2:28 am IST

84% of 38 brands of breads test positive for potassium bromate, potassium iodate; probe ordered

 Satish Upadhyay
  Satish Upadhyay

84% of 38 brands of breads test positive for potassium bromate, potassium iodate; probe ordered

The Centre for Science and Environment on Monday came up with an alarming study confirming the presence of cancerous chemicals in 84 per cent of 38 widely-consumed brands of pre-packaged breads, including pizzas, buns and paos, as they tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate, both banned in many countries because of “hazardous” effect on human health.


Within hours of the report’s release, the Union health ministry ordered a probe into the matter, with Union health minister J.P. Nadda saying that he had told his officials to report to him urgently. “There is no need to panic. Very soon, we will come out with the (probe) report,” he added. After the report, FSSAI, the food regulator in the country, said it has decided to remove potassium bromate from the list of permitted additives and it is examining evidence against potassium iodate before restricting its use.

Some of the popular food joints whose samples tested positive, include KFC, McDonald’s, Domino’s, Subway, Pizza Hut and Nirula’s, the study revealed. “We found 84 per cent samples positive with potassium bromate/iodate. We re-confirmed the presence of potassium bromate/iodate in a few samples through an external third-party laboratory. We checked labels and talked to industry and scientists. Our study confirms the widespread use of potassium bromate/iodate as well as presence of bromate/iodate residues in the final product,” said Chandra Bhushan, CSE deputy director-general and head of the CSE laboratory, adding, “While potassium bromate is classified as a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans), potassium iodate possibly causes thyroid-related diseases. Both are hazardous to human health.”


The results, the study claimed, were obtained from tests on 38 commonly available branded varieties of pre-packaged breads, pao and buns, ready-to-eat burger breads and ready-to-eat pizza breads of popular fast food outlets in Delhi.

The study found that 84 per cent (32/38) of the samples contained potassium bromate or iodate in the range of 1.15-22.54 parts per million (ppm). Around 79 per cent (19/24) samples of packaged bread, all samples of white bread, pao, bun and ready-to-eat pizza bread and 75 per cent (3/4) samples of ready-to-eat burger bread were positive. “High levels of potassium bromate/iodate were found in sandwich bread, pao, bun and white bread involving virtually all top brands,” the CSE said, urging the FSSAI to ban their use with immediate effect.


“Use of potassium iodate as a flour treatment agent in breads should not be allowed by the FSSAI. The BIS should amend relevant available standards in this case as well,” the CSE suggested, adding, “There are safer alternatives present and the cost of adopting those is insignificant.”

In 1999, the CSE said, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified potassium bromate as possibly carcinogenic (cancer causing) to humans. It was found to cause tumours of kidney, thyroid and cancer of the abdominal lining in laboratory animals. Considering potassium bromate as a “genotoxic carcinogen,” the JECFA (WHO/FAO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives) in 1992 said that “use of potassium bromate as a flour treatment agent was not appropriate,” the CSE said.


Banned by the EU and the UK in 1990, its use was prohibited in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nigeria, Peru and Colombia subsequently.

“Globally, potassium bromate was allowed to be used on the assumption that the bromate residues would not be present in the end product,” the CSE report observed, adding, “This assumption failed across the world. Residues were being detected even after reducing the allowed limit of use and therefore, many countries started banning it. Our study confirms that residues of potassium bromate are present in bread sold in India.”

The food safety regulations of India allow use of potassium bromate as flour treatment agent in bread and other bakery products.


Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi