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Why Italy Wants to Ban This Jet-Black Bread

While the use of refined sugars and preservatives by huge food companies goes unpunished, small bakeries making supposedly fart-free bread are having to deal with regulators.

Nick Rose

Nick Rose

Photo via Instagram user angel85var

Everybody knows that the ingredients that go into a loaf of bread aren't exactly the healthiest.

Refined sugar and preservatives are basically accepted as necessary evils at this point, given the huge demand for spongy, soft, ever-fresh bread.

According to some reports, human hair gathered from the floors of hair salons in China, along with duck feathers, cow horns, and pig bristles, find their way into our bread supply because they can be synthesized into a chemical which dramatically lengthens the shelf life of certain products.

READ: A Visual Guide to the Chemicals in Your Food

Some European bakeries pump an additive known as 153 Carbon Black into their loaves. As scary as 153 Carbon Black sounds, it actually has a wide range of medical benefits, from treating poisonings to drug overdoses and is available over-the-counter in pill form in numerous countries as a remedy for gassiness and indigestion.

But the use of this jet black flatulence-reducing additive is becoming more and more of an issue in Europe, where bread cannot be called bread unless it is void of added colours.

One of the main sources of E153 Carbon Black is activated charcoal, a carbon which is also used in gas mask air filters, sewage treatment, and gold purification.

Needless to say, the presence of such a synthetic, dark compound in bread is viewed with suspicion in Europe, where bread is taken very seriously. New European regulation is specifically targeting activated charcoal, and bakers who use it precisely for its purported health benefits.

But the European Food Safety Authority has rejected the supposed digestive properties of charcoal and, under the new EU regulatory framework, the Italian health ministry has begun cracking down on bakers who tout the health benefits of the black loaf.

In Italy, where black bread is known as pane al carbone vegetale, 12 bakeries have been accused of using 153 Carbon Black as a colourant in breads, BakeryandSnacks.com has reported.

READ: There's Human Hair in Your Bread

But not all regulatory experts are buying into the dangers of activated charcoal, and some, like Luca Bucchini, managing director of Italian regulatory consultancy Hylobates, told BakeryandSnacks that the regulation surrounding the carbon black health claims are too ambiguous.

"My view is that the ban is not well founded in EU and national food law, and it may be challenged successfully in court, because it can be argued that vegetable carbon may be used for purposes other than a food additive, and member states cannot restrict the use of health claims on certain products, if they comply with EU food law," Bucchini told BakeryandSnacks, adding that the risk of being penalized would have a chilling effect on the production of a potentially beneficial product.

So while the use of refined sugars and preservatives by huge food companies goes unpunished, small bakeries making supposedly fart-free bread are having to deal with regulators.