|India’s food safety agency has warned the public against using newspapers to wrap or serve food or absorb oil from fried food, saying such “unhealthy” practices could harm health through “slow poisoning”.
“The consumption of such food is injurious to health even if the food has been cooked hygienically,” the Food Safety Standards Authority of India said in an advisory to curb a decades-old practice followed by food vendors.
The FSSAI said food items contaminated by newspaper ink raise “serious health concerns since the ink contains multiple bioactive materials with known negative health effects”. Printing inks may also contain harmful colours and additives, it said.
“I urge the public to dissuade vendors from using newspapers in packing and serving food and not to themselves use (them) too,” Union health minister Jagat Prakash Nadda said in a statement released today to accompany the FSSAI advisory.
The FSSAI has not cited evidence, but research studies outside India have over the past decade stirred concerns over the health effects of newspaper ink from recycled newspapers in contact with food.
A Canadian environmental health scientist had said four years ago in the journal Environmnental Health Review that some constituents of ink and dyes have been associated with bladder cancer. They had also cited an earlier study by scientists at the University of California, Davis, that had indicated that ink contains ingredients that can influence a key biological pathway involved in how the body responds to toxic substances.
The FSSAI said newspapers may be contaminated with metallic compounds, mineral oils, and harmful chemicals such as phthalates that could cause digestive disorders as well as lead to toxicity.
However, toxicology specialists say the health risks from any potential contaminants depend on multiple factors, including the absorption and dose of exposure.
“Some inks may be irritants, but the risk to health would depend on the exact identity of the compounds, their rate of absorption by the food, and the amount that is ingested,” said B Suresh Shetty, professor of forensic medicine at the Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore.
However, toxicologists concede that slow and long-term exposure to contaminants may at times contribute to health disorders that are difficult to associate with the exposure because of the lapse of time and inadequate data.
Research by scientists at Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment earlier this year had suggested that mineral oils used in printing inks are potential “disruptors” of the endocrine system that regulates growth and development, metabolism, and reproduction among other body processes.