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in the Public Interest
July 19, 1999
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Consumer Group Calls for Ban On “Flour Improver”
Potassium Bromate Termed a Cancer Threat
WASHINGTON - The Center for Science in the Public Interest today petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the use of potassium bromate, which is used to strengthen bread dough. CSPI 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.”
Food additives that cause cancer usually can be banned under the Delaney clause of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. However, because the FDA sanctioned the use of bromate before the Delaney clause went into effect in 1958, it is harder for the agency to ban the substance.
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 65. Baked goods sold in California would have to bear a cancer warning if they contained more than a certain level of bromate. As a result, most California bakers have switched to bromate-free processes.
Many bakers, including Best Foods, Inc. (maker of Arnold, Entenmann’s, and Orowheat brand breads and rolls), Pepperidge Farm, and Pillsbury, have switched to bromate-free processes. Also, some supermarket chains, including Giant, Jewel, Ralph’s, and Von’s, do not use bromate.
In contrast, Interstate Brands Corp. (Wonder, Home Pride), Schmidt Baking Co. (Schmidt, Sunbeam), Tasty Baking Co. (TastyKake), and Martin’s still use potassium bromate in some of their products. Among fast-food chains, Burger King, Arby’s, and Wendy’s use bromate in buns, and Boston Market uses it in its french sandwich bread.
CSPI advises consumers to avoid bread, rolls, doughnuts, and cakes that list “potassium bromate” or “bromated flour” among their ingredients. FDA’s limited surveys found that rolls and buns are especially likely to contain high levels of bromate.