Ban on flour whitener in the mix

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 December, 2008, 12:00am

The Ministry of Health is considering a ban on a controversial food additive that makes flour appear whiter but is blamed by some for destroying its nutrients.

Ministry spokesman Mao Qunan said on Wednesday the ministry had received an application from the State Administration of Grain to stop the use of benzoperoxide, an additive used for bleaching flour for more than two decades. The ministry would ask the national food additive standards committee to discuss the issue before deciding whether to impose a ban.

He said accusations in a Southern Weekly report that the ministry was reluctant to ban the additive because it wanted to protect manufacturers' interests were 'groundless'.

Mr Mao said food additives, only allowed after strict testing, never caused health risks unless they were used excessively and that a ban should only be imposed after strict scientific tests.

The announcement comes after years of fruitless calls by nutrition experts and grain authorities to outlaw the use of benzoperoxide as a flour additive, on the grounds it destroys carotene and folic acid in flour.

In June last year, the ministry launched a two-month public consultation on whether to ban the whitening agent. However, it did not approve a modified wheat flour standard advocated by processing companies and the State Administration of Grain that would have banned the whitening agent.

The ministry argued the additive was not detrimental to health if used according to the permitted dose and that it was not banned by the United States or the UN joint expert committee on food additives, which allowed its use up to 40mg per kilogram.

The mainland considers the agent safe at levels under 60mg per kilogram. But those who advocate a ban say the ministry is behind the times and that the old standard should be updated to meet public concerns.

'Twenty years ago people thought 'the whiter the better', but now they are more concerned about whether the food they eat is safe. Benzoperoxide brings no benefits other than making the flour appear white,' said Fan Liangsheng , general manger of Zhengzhou Qihua Scientific Trading, a company that specialises in selling food additives and giving food safety advice.

Sound grain processing could produce naturally white flour without the agent, which was mainly used by small grain producing companies, Mr Fan said.

The agent was banned in the European Union and Mr Fan said a ban was unnecessary in the US because processors there did not use it. Most US flour was used in baking so a brilliant white colour was not required. He said the ministry was behind the times and was placing the economic interests of food-additive producers and associations before consumer health.