'Colouring tea has become a serious health concern'

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The cup of tea that freshen you up every morning may contain artificial colours even as the same is not permitted under food safety norms, Tea Board of India has warned saying that the same has become a matter of serious concern.

"Use of color in different food items in our country has been followed according to the guidelines of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The authority's regulation on tea says the product shall be free from extraneous matter, added colouring matter and harmful substances. FSSAI permits use of eight synthetic colors in specific food items but tea is not included in that list. 

Color adulteration is strictly prohibited from consumer health point of view but coloring of tea has gradually become a matter of serious concern these days. The treatment of teas with various coloring matters comes under the head of adulterants," the board has said.

The board cited reports about sub-standard tea leaves being used to be colored with bismark brown, potassium blue, turmeric, indigo, plumbago to impart some favourite color or glossiness to the product. "Tea leaves which were damaged during manufacturing process or are of inferior quality are being treated with various coloring agents to improve their appearance and price. Coloring matters which are added to tea do not add any value to the product. Black teas are usually treated with plumbago (black lead). There is no evidence that using this agent for coloring tea is deleterious to health. However, adding foreign matter to the teas for the purpose of deception should be strongly discouraged. Scientific studies are required to evaluate the impact of using color to human health," said the board.

The board further said adulteration in tea leaves is done by treating processed leaves with a mixture containing prussian blue, turmeric or indigo but detection of the same very difficult.

The board's warning about colouring tea has evoked reaction in tea industry in Assam, the region which contribute over 52% to the country's total tea production. 

Adviser of North Eastern Tea Association (NETA), Bidyananda Barkakoty said adding of artificial colour in tea has already become a menace in India.Artificial colour is added to get more cuppage from less quantity of tea. It started in southern states and is now spreading, he said.

"Tea has intrinsic quality as a natural product and addition of  colour can potentially compromise the goodwill and safety of consumer health and therefore we urge the concerned authorities to take urgent steps to stop this illegal activity. However, use of natural flavours in tea is allowed," Barkakoty said.

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