Consumers nudges SA bakers to cut controversial ADA bread additive

Consumer opinion rather than health risk is forcing the hand of top SA bread companies to remove azodicarbonamide (ADA) from their recipes, an additive used in baking bread which helps keep the flour white, the dough stronger and the bread bigger and softer.

Several commercial bakers, including Pioneer Foods (bakers of Sasko bread), Famous Brands (which owns Steers, Wimpy and Debonairs Pizza, among other franchises) and the in-house bakeries of Pick n Pay and other chain stores, have started removing the chemical substance azodicarbonamide (ADA) from their bread-baking processes. Woolworths’ producer has been asked to remove ADA by July.

This is in line with world trends and comes amid claims that its removal would not affect bread quality or price. Tiger Brands (Albany bread) said it did not use ADA.

ADA is banned in food in Europe, the UK and Australia, but is legal in the US, Canada and here. Unlike in the US, labelling laws here don’t require the word azodicarbonamide to be listed on products. Local suppliers using ADA can simply list “flour improver” as an ingredient.

ADA has been widely used as an additive in commercial bread baking for many years and is regulated by the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, which allows for 45 parts per million as the maximum quantity for all bread. The substance has been approved by the US FDA.

Negative public opinion about the use of ADA first surfaced in the US recently against fast-food outlet Subway, which decided to stop using the compound following a social media campaign by bloggist, Food Babe.

But Famous Brands’ CEO of food services business in SA, Darren Hele, said that there was no science to back any claims that ADA was hazardous to human health.

However, removal of ADA effectively altered the texture of the flour, making it less white.

Prof John Taylor, food scientist at the University of Pretoria and former president of the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology, said in SA additives such as ADA, ascorbic acid and genetically modified soya were added to large bakers’ mechanical dough development process to make the dough stronger.

“We produce bread quickly, at a good quality and an affordable price. If we were to make it in the traditional way it would be considerably more expensive.” In Australia, where ADA is banned, the same bread as SA’s would cost consumers three times more, he said.

Johannesburg-based food scientist, Nigel Sunley, suspects that political pressure, more than actual safety concerns, has driven the ADA debate: “I am aware that there is a lot of opposition to its use. . . a lot of bakers have stopped using it.”

He said products with minimal or no food additives came at a price in terms of cost and stability and were limited to affluent consumers and those who wrongly believed they would be better off without additives. Food additives, he said, allowed for more varied, cheaper and safer food.

The FDA said ADA completely breaks down during bread making and forms other chemicals, one of which is called SEM. At high levels, SEM has been shown to increase the incidence of tumours when fed to female – but not male – mice.

The FDA did not recommend that consumers changed their diets due to exposure to ADA or SEM.

Pick n Pay group strategy and corporate affairs director David North said they no longer used any premixes with ADA in any of their bakeries, or house brand products.

“In coming to this decision, we did not think food safety was at stake…. In this case, a relatively small number of customers said that they would prefer our bread not to be made using ADA.”

Pioneer Foods corporate affairs head Lulu Khumalo said they had started removing ADA from all their formulations some time ago.

Source: Business Day; Sunday Times

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