- Attia Nabil
- BBC Cairo
Muhammad Hassan (not his real name) sits in a square in eastern Cairo, and in front of him is the table of bread that he shares in baking and selling.
The seller is considering a new way to make bread more attractive to customers, after the government decided to ban the use of potassium bromate, known commercially as “bread improver”, from circulation in the Egyptian market, due to its danger to public health.
Muhammad says that this material used to give a smooth texture to the loaf of bread, an acceptable shape and a pleasant aroma, and it also helped speed up the fermentation and ripening processes inside the bread ovens, which was what made customers accept to buy from it in a very short time compared to other sellers.
Commercial fraud and weak oversight
The National Center for the Right to Medicines – a non-governmental human rights body – is in charge of monitoring the quality of food and medicine in the Egyptian market, and a number of local institutions participate in this task.
Mahmoud Fouad, Executive Director of the Egyptian Center for the Right to Medicines, believes that the Egyptian market suffers from major problems related to weak oversight, commercial fraud, and what he described as the “mafia of large importers” who say that they are filling the Egyptian markets with cheap, low-quality goods, which are in great demand due to the high demand. Poverty rates in the country.
Fouad told the BBC that the center had warned against using “potassium bromate” or bread and cake improver since 2016 in official letters to the Minister of Supply and the Health Committee of the Egyptian Parliament, after some research had proven its danger to the health of citizens, and that it caused the spread of cancerous tumors and problems with the system. Digestive and heart disease in some consumers.
It took about six years for these appeals to be answered.
The center calls for other health authorities to tighten control over the use of this substance and other substances harmful to health.
The role of a body Food Safety
The Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade in Egypt decided to ban the circulation of “potassium bromate” a few days ago, after receiving results of research conducted by the “Food Safety Authority” and the National Research Center confirming the danger of this substance to public health.
Hassan Mansour, head of the Food Safety Authority in Egypt, says that the latest decision came within a new regulation issued by the authority to update the list of prohibited substances because of their danger to public health.
The Food Safety Authority in Egypt carries out this procedure every period of time according to the development of scientific research and decisions issued by international bodies concerned with monitoring food safety, such as the American Food and Drug Authority, the European Codex Alimentarius Authority, in addition to the National Research Center in Egypt, and others.
Mansour confirmed to the BBC that the new regulation includes prohibiting many other substances besides “potassium bromate” such as some industrial colors and chemicals that are used in some candy and preserved food industries, which amount to more than 300 other substances.
The Food Safety Authority in Egypt follows up the implementation of the decisions issued regarding the prohibition of some harmful substances through inspection campaigns and field trips to the markets, during which samples of the goods are drawn inside the sales stores and stores, and analyzed in the specialized laboratories to ensure that they are free of harmful substances or their presence in the permissible quantities according to The law regulating these matters.
A 1979 law on “commercial fraud” punishes anyone who puts a prohibited substance or in a quantity greater than the permissible in the food commodities traded in the market, with imprisonment for a period of one year and a fine estimated at 10 thousand Egyptian pounds (about 670 US dollars) or one of these two penalties.
The penalty doubles if the violation is repeated, and it reaches imprisonment for a period of three years and a fine of up to 50,000 Egyptian pounds.
Long list of harmful substances
The executive director of the Egyptian Center for the Right to Medicines explains that the center and other regulatory authorities are still issuing warnings against a long list of other harmful substances being traded inside the Egyptian market, such as some artificial colors or palm oil from which synthetic margarine is made or vegetable fats that enter In the manufacture of some types of cheese.
This is in addition to some other substances that are used in the manufacture of sweets, such as “aspartame” sugar, artificial sweeteners and natural sugar substitutes, or “potassium nitrate” that is placed on fava beans to accelerate its ripening and give it a texture acceptable to consumers.
Egyptian human rights activist Mohamed Fouad calls for the existence of new legislation to control markets and preserve the quality of food sold to Egyptians. He also calls on producers to clearly clarify the ingredients and quantities of food products on the packages and “warn of the danger of some of them just as it is written on cigarette or smoking packages.”
Fouad refers in this context to a box of “vegetable ghee” circulating in the Egyptian market at a price of only 10 pounds, while the price of a kilo of “natural ghee” made from milk and milk is about 300 Egyptian pounds.
Fouad said that the citizen has the right to be aware of research indicating the danger of palm oil or hydrogenated vegetable oils, especially if they are used in large quantities and for long periods of time, as long as the state is unable to prohibit the use of this type of alternative fats or vegetable oils due to the large number of Demand for it as a result of its low price.
Factories Not licensed
Hassan Al-Fandi, a member of the candy division of the Chamber of Food Industries, affiliated to the Federation of Egyptian Industries, says that Egypt mainly depends on European and American specifications regarding food safety, and therefore it is not prohibited to use any substance unless it is included on the lists of the US Food and Drug Administration or the agency European food and drug control.
Al-Fendi explains to the BBC that some materials are traded naturally and for long periods of time until they are listed on those reference lists, which leads to delays in updating the lists of substances that are already banned in some countries, such as some codes for industrial colors used in the manufacture of sweets or sugar substitutes Such as “aspartame” and others.
Mohamed Raafat Zreikah, a member of the Egyptian Chamber of Food Industries, said that most of the official producers in Egypt adhere to the publications received from the Egyptian Food Safety Authority, which he said are updated periodically.
Zerika added to the BBC that most of the violations related to the use of prohibited and harmful substances come from unofficial producers, or so-called “factories under the peace”, who do not have the licenses and health and industrial requirements necessary to practice the activity.
Cancer in Egypt
Recent statistics indicate that Egypt occupies an advanced position among the countries most affected by cancerous tumors in the Middle East and North Africa.
According to a study issued by the National Institute of Oncology, affiliated to the Ministry of Higher Education, there are about 124,000 oncology patients in Egypt.
A study published by the International Cancer Society during its tenth annual conference in 2018 indicates that Egypt records 13 different types of cancer cases every hour.
Hisham Al-Ghazali, professor of oncology at Ain Shams University Faculty of Medicine, expects to increase the number of people with the deadly disease to 350,000 cases by 2050.
Observers attribute the high incidence of cancerous tumors in Egypt to the spread of environmental pollutants and unhealthy dietary patterns, which include the presence of some pesticides and carcinogens that are used in agriculture or food production.