On 24th May, 2016 the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi released a case study that showed 84% of the commonly consumed breads to have tested positive for Potassium Bromate & Potassium Iodate. They work as oxidizing agents to strengthen dough and increase the shelf life of a finished product. Potassium bromate is classified as a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans) and Potassium Iodate has been linked to thyroid related diseases. Both are banned in most parts of the world, and are required to be listed down as an ingredient in others. To understand how these chemicals found their way into our daily bread it’s first important to understand a few things about large scale bread production and consumption patterns.
A major portion of the bread consumed in Mumbai, and in India at large, comes from the unorganized sector. Production centers in this sector are small, labor intensive and lacking in basic hygiene. Manufacturers prefer to set up in slums to save on rent in metro cities and as a result don’t always have access to continuous electricity and water supply. Warehousing and packaging arears are not always temperature controlled or sterilized. All these factors affect the final product and its shelf life in numerous ways. To counter them manufacturers resort to using a cocktail of chemicals and additives. These chemicals stabilize and standardize the flavor and texture of the product while increasing the shelf life by a few days. While some of these additions help, most strip the product of its nutritive value and in some case do dire harm to our health and well being.
I recently visited a premium grocery store and saw they had stocked ready-to-eat bagels that could be frozen and kept for longer. These bagels had been manufactured in Haryana and were being sold in Mumbai. This is essentially where the problem begins. Our growing demand for a wider variety of baked goods from across the globe is not being met with a simultaneous willingness to pay a premium for it. Manufacturers are being squeezed for time and money in a price sensitive market and the resulting consequence is helpful to neither party. The solution lies in both manufacturers and consumers working together. We must demand clearer labels and be willing to pay a higher price, while manufacturers must invest in more sustainable methods of production.