Tata Group, the country’s largest conglomerate, has been battling to dispel a misinformation campaign about the safety of its biggest brand Tata Salt after reports emerged last week that several branded salts in India contain alarming level of potassium ferrocyanide.
Potassium ferrocyanide (PFC), a substance used as anti-caking agent to prevent lumping in salts, according to reports, makes people vulnerable to cancer, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, impotence, obesity and kidney failure when consumed in large quantities. “The use of PFC is allowed in salt and is safe and harmless to the human body when consumed as per approved levels,” said a spokesperson for Tata Chemicals that manages the salt business for the group. “This is clearly declared in the list of Tata Salt ingredients in a manner prescribed by the regulations.”
Tata Salt has shared credible reports from regulatory bodies across the world on permitted levels of PFC on its website and social media handles to dispel the “fake news”, and has also reached out to various news outlets that carried the initial fake news that claimed nowhere in the world PFC is permitted for use in edible salt.
Misinformation, or “fake news”, does not impact just brands but also creates a public scare around health, given that the product is something as basic as salt, the company said.
Shiv Shankar Gupta, chairman of Godhum Grains & Farm Products that sells natural salt, had last week claimed that PFC levels were alarmingly high in reputed Indian salt brands.
His statements became viral after a news wire agency published his comments, causing outrage in social media platforms about safety of branded salt.
Salt is big business for Tata Chemicals. According to the company’s annual report, Tata Salt enjoys leadership in overall packaged powdered salt market with 25.2% share. It continues to be India’s largest distributed salt brand, reaching out to 170 million households through 19 lakh retail outlets. Salt is one of the significant contributor for the company’s total consumer business revenues of ?1,847 crore.
The debate or rumours regarding the dangers of adding PFC in salt is not new although regulatory bodies across the world have approved this substance safe for consumption within permissible quantity.
In Mainland China and Hong Kong, for example, food and drug regulatory agencies had to issue a clarification last year following a similar rumour about safety of PFC. “Some people may worry that toxic cyanide will be released when ferrocyanides are heated during cooking. However, because of the strong chemical bond between iron and the cyanide, usual cooking temperature is unable to break down ferrocyanide to cyanide,” the Hong Kong regulator had said in a statement. “International food safety authorities have evaluated the safety of sodium/potassium/calcium ferrocyanides and concluded that there is no safety concern in current authorised use and use levels.”
The European Union, after several studies, has concluded that PFCs currently used as food additives are safe for consumption within the permissible limit of 4.4 mg/kg body weight per day. The Indian food regulator allows 10mg/kg, while Codex Alimentarius, an internationally recognised standards on food safety, has permitted levels of 14mg/kg.