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General News of Tuesday, 18 September 2001

Source: Public Agenda

Health Alert! Bread Could Cause Cancer And Impotence


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Consumers of bread are at risk of getting cancer and other diseases including male impotence.

Disturbing research reports indicate that bakers in certain parts of the Brong Ahafo Region and northern Ghana are using potassium bromate which scientists have identified as "carcinogen" (something which can cause cancer) in their flour to prepare bread.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the use of Potasium Bromate is wide-spread even in Accra.

The use of potassium bromate was said to be nation-wide. But the Ministry of Trade and Industry banned its use in 1997, following tests conducted by the Ghana Standard Board and the Environmental Protection Agency, which linked the bromate, a form of yeast which makes break expand unusually, to cancer.

Potassium Bromate, which is used to strengthen and expand bread dough, in itself, is said not to be a bad substance except when used in excessive quantities.

The discovery of Potassium bromate in bread in the country reached alarming proportion in 1996. Following public outcry, the Ghana Standards Board asked the country's flourmills throughout, to put the required quantity during the preparation of the flour .

"This was to prevent the bakers from abusing the system but because it helps the flour to expand, the bakers bought them under cover and added more to their flour," said Kofi Amponsah Bediako, Public Relations Officer of the Ghana Standards Board.

"Because Ghanaians buy by size and usually not by weight the more Potassium Bromate added to the flour, the more bakers made money," he explained, adding "they were just thinking of their profit."

Bediako told the Public Agenda that the GSB called the Bakers Associations and educated them on the use of Potassium Bromate.

In 1997 GSB, together with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, banned the use of Potassium Bromate in the country after the completion of a research by the Research and Development Unit of the GSB on the harmful effects of the substance on human life.

Amponsah Bediako said the recent reports about the re-emergence of the substance in the country suggests that it is being smuggled in through the country's entry points.

He said the GSB has been monitoring flour in the factories, which has replaced Potassium Bromate with Ascorbic acid or Vitamin C.

He said that Vitamin C, which is not harmful when used in excessive quantities, does not expand bread flour like potassium bromate

Making the harmful bromate an obvious choice for bakers who are conscious for profit.

"The substance is easy to carry. A palmful of bromate can be used for several quantities of flour, making it easy to smuggle into the country quite easy.

Top officials of the Food Research Institute were not available for comment. A never of subordinates available were tight-lipped on the issue saying they did not want to cause public panic. They agreed that Potassium bromate is harmful to human health, though.

"It is like poison that accumulates over a period of time before it starts worrying you," an official who refused to go on record said.

"If the substance has been found in certain parts of the country, it is possible it is being used by bakers in Accra as well," says Kwame Tawiah who says he never misses out on bread for breakfast.

"The authorities must ensure that we are safe," he says.

Bakers and bread sellers Public Agenda spoke to denied knowledge of the harmful effect of bromate.

Others said they had not heard of the name Potassium bromate before.

"All I know and all that I use for my bread is the normal yeast that expands bread," says Aba Mensah a baker at Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra.

The misuse of Potassium Bromate is not a source of worry to only Ghanaians. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US to prohibit the use of Potassium Bromate, The body charged that the FDA has known for years that bromate causes cancers in laboratory animals, but has failed to ban it.

Bromate was first found to cause tumors in rats in 1982. Subsequent studies on rats and mice confirmed that it causes tumors of the kidney, thyroid, and other organs. Instead of banning bromate since 1991 the FDA , with only partial success, has urged bakers to voluntarily stop using it.

"The FDA should fulfill its responsibility to protect the public's health," said Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of CSPI. "Instead of meeting privately with industry, the FDA should ban bromate immediately."

"In 1992-93 and again in 1998-99, the FDA tested several dozen baked goods and found that many contained bromate at levels considered unsafe by the agency," said Darren Mitchell, a CSPI attorney.

"One sample tested recently had almost 1,000 times the detection limit. The FDA's inaction needlessly exposes consumers to this harmful additive."

Bromates have been banned in numerous countries, including the United Kingdom in 1990 and Canada in 1994. In addition, in 1991, California declared bromate a carcinogen under the state's Proposition. Baked goods sold in California would have to bear a cancer warning if they contained more than a certain level of bromate.

Potassium bromate has been evaluated for acceptable level of treatment for flour to be consumed by man by the Joint FAO/WHO Committee on Food Additives in 1964. In addition to its use in the treatment of flour, potassium bromate is used in treating barley in beer making and it has been used for the improvement of the quality of fish-paste products in Japan.

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