Guwahati, May 30: Barring Assam, the process to collect bread samples for laboratory tests is yet to gain momentum in the rest of the Northeast, a week after a Delhi-based NGO warned that cancer-causing chemicals were being used as additives while making bread.
A study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) revealed that nearly 84 per cent of 38 brands of pre-packaged bread in New Delhi had tested positive for potassium bromate and potassium iodate, which are used for treating flour, but banned in several countries as they are listed as "hazardous" for public health.
In the wake of the study, the Kamrup (metro) district administration on Wednesday activated a team of food safety officers to collect samples of bread from various bakeries/outlets. Subsequently, samples were collected from Dibrugarh, Silchar and other districts.
The state public health laboratory at Bamunimaidam here, which caters to the entire Northeast, has so far received 20 samples for analysis.
"As of today, we have received 20 samples while more may be on their way. Of them, some have come from Arunachal Pradesh. A sample takes 14 days to analyse," food analyst Anupam Gogoi, who heads the laboratory, told The Telegraph today.
The All India Bread Manufacturers Association on Friday announced the withdrawal of the use of the two chemicals while making bread after the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India had taken serious note of the CSE report.
Apparently, states such as Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram and Nagaland have been rather indifferent to safety concerns from certain quarters.
Sources said the Manipur health directorate has no immediate plan to check the quality of bread and other bakery items in the state. An official at the food safety unit of the state health directorate said officials of the unit had been checking the quality of other items from time to time, particularly after complaints had been received. "Right now we don't have any plan to collect samples of bread," the official said.
The Meghalaya government, too, has played a passive role, maintaining silence over its immediate plan of action to address the concerns of the people, as bread is a breakfast staple for many, and consumed almost every day. Additional chief secretary (health and family welfare) Y. Tsering was reluctant speak up on how the government would address the issue when reporters had asked him recently.
Asked about the measures, health officials in Nagaland were indifferent, saying they were not aware of any move.
K. Roopari, principal director, Mizoram health department, told The Telegraph that they had held a meeting today and would soon take action. "We have not yet sent any sample for tests but will do so soon," Roopari said.
The process has been tardy in Tripura with authorities waking up to public concerns only today. Food safety commissioner S.S. Nath said some samples of bread were collected and sent to the regional food laboratory in Agartala.
Potassium bromate - classified as a category 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic to humans) - is banned in most countries. Potassium iodate is said to contribute to thyroid-related diseases. Food safety regulations in India permit up to 50 parts per million (ppm) of potassium bromate and/or potassium iodate in bread. In allied bakery products, it is 20ppm for the two additives.
Reports say potassium bromate makes the bread look white and is also used as a flour improver, which means that it helps in strengthening dough and enhances its elasticity. Potassium iodate is used as a source for iodising common salt.
Bread manufacturers and bakery owners here said they do not use chemicals. "We are waiting for the lab reports so that consumer apprehensions are allayed as sales have been affected in the past week. We do not use any additives," Shaikh Altaf Hossain, co-owner of one of India's oldest bakeries - Shaikh Brothers - here told The Telegraph.
While sales of branded bakery items have been down, the volumes, industry sources say, are not as large as in New Delhi, where even small manufacturers, primarily in the unorganised sector, use chemicals. "Here, the scale of production is much less. We use only improvers but have stopped doing so for the past week. Sales of bread have dipped 50 per cent," an official of SRD Group, known for its Repose brand, said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEKHAR DATTA IN AGARTALA, KHELEN THOKCHOM IN IMPHAL, H. CHISHI IN KOHIMA, NILOTPAL BHATTACHARJEE IN SILCHAR & RINING LYNGDOH IN SHILLONG