Consumer group urges F.D.A. to ban potassium bromate as flour, bread ingredient

by Teresa Acklin
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   WASHINGTON — A consumer advocacy group has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of potassium bromate, an additive in flour and certain breads and other bakery items that improves dough strength and texture. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a July 19 petition to the F.D.A., said the agency “has known for years that bromate causes cancers in laboratory animals, but has failed to ban it.” Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Washington-based consumer group, said studies show that feeding rats and mice very high levels of potassium bromate can cause cancer. “The F.D.A. should fulfill its responsibility to protect the public's health,” he said.

   The C.S.P.I. cited recent F.D.A. tests of 17 types of rolls and buns that found more than half contained levels of potassium bromate higher than the limit experts advise. The organization advised consumers to avoid bread, rolls, donuts and cakes that list potassium bromate or bromated flour among its ingredients.

   The F.D.A. since the early 1990s has urged the U.S. milling and baking industry to voluntarily stop using potassium bromate. The state of California declared it a potential carcinogen in 1991 and the chemical has been banned in England and Canada.

   In response to the C.S.P.I.'s petition, the American Bakers Association said that when potassium bromate is used properly, baked foods can be made with no detectable potassium bromate residues.

   “Potassium bromate has been safely used for 80 years and is approved by the F.D.A.,” the A.B.A. said. “Industry studies show that when potassium bromate is used properly, baked foods can be made with no detectable potassium bromate residues, even when measured to levels as low as 3 parts per billion.

   “In the interest of assuring product safety and adhering to F.D.A.'s guidelines, the baking industry has adopted use levels and policies to stay within safe residue levels.” The A.B.A. also noted that the baking industry supports product labeling to indicate when potassium bromate has been used in the baking process.

   “The industry is working cooperatively with F.D.A. to get to zero residues and will continue that effort as part of its long-standing commitment to safe, wholesome and nutritious food,” said Paul C. Abenante, president and chief executive officer of the A.B.A.

   Use of potassium bromate by U.S. bakers has declined sharply in recent years, the A.B.A. said. It is still used by some bakers in some products in amounts considerably reduced from earlier levels.

   In U.S. flour mills, potassium bromate is one of the oldest and most effective oxidizing improvers for bread flour and is still widely used, said Ian S.V. Trood, general manager of the flour service division of American Ingredients Company, Kansas City, Missouri.

   However, the flour improver is only added at the request of a specific bakery, said Jim Bair, vice-president of the North American Millers Association in Washington. “The A.B.A. has done a great job of trying to inform bakers how can be more conservative in their usage (of potassium bromate,” he said. “But all this negative publicity suggests that maybe we need to take a good, hard look at it (bromate) to see if want to fight that battle.”