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Agency Calls For Ban on Food Colorings

April 10, 2008

Britain’s Food Standard Agency (FSA) has called for a ban on six artificial food colorings, and wants the British government to instate voluntary removal of the products by next year.

The agency’s plea follows a study completed in September 2007 that found children lost concentration and behaved impulsively after consuming a drink containing the additives.

The study involved 300 children who were assigned one of three drinks at random — either a potent mix of colorings and additives, or a drink that matched the average daily additive intake of a child of their age, or a “placebo” drink containing no additives. Hyperactivity levels were then measured both before and after consuming the drink. The results of the study found the drink with the highest level of additives had a “significantly adverse” effect compared with the placebo drink.

The proposed ban is centered on six colorings found in many products such as processed foods, sweets, confectionary and takeout food. Specifically, the six colorings include:

  • Sunset yellow (E110) – Coloring found in squashes
  • Carmoisine (E122) – Red coloring in jellies
  • Tartrazine (E102) – New coloring in fizzy drinks
  • Ponceau 4R (E124) – Red coloring
  • Quinoline yellow (E104) – Food coloring
  • Allura red AC (E129) – Orange/red food dye

The FSA has advised parents of hyperactive children to learn about the potential risks involved with consuming these additives.

But some say more action is needed. During a FSA board meeting last week, agency chair Dame Deirdre Hutton said, “The evidence we have suggests it would be sensible for these [colorings] to be taken out of food.

“We would like to see the use of colors phased out over a period. That does require mandatory action by the EU,” she said, according to a BBC News report.

Board members discussed seeking the voluntary “phasing out” of the additives as quickly as possible, as formal EU legislation would take many years to take effect.

In March, Europe’s Food Safety Agency said that effects of food colorings on children’s behavior were small, but since the colorings held no nutritional benefits, there would be no harm or costs in removing them from children’s’ diets.

“UK food and drink manufacturers are already taking these colors out of products on supermarket shelves, so we are surprised the FSA board feels it is an appropriate use of their powers to call for a voluntary ban,” Julian Hunt of the Food and Drink Federation, an industry trade organization, told BBC News.

He added that there were “a handful” of products, including mushy peas and battenburg cake, where it had been impossible to remove the colorings, and the industry was concerned they would have to be removed from the market.

Mr. Hunt warned that a British ban of the colorings would be at odds with the rest of Europe, as it would not apply to European imports.

Meanwhile, a Department of Health spokesperson said they would be asking the FSA to continue working industry to implement voluntary removal of the additives, especially in children’s foods.

“If parents are concerned about any additives they should remember that, by law, food additives must be listed on the label so they can make the choice to avoid the product if they want to.”

Action on Additives campaign co-coordinator Anna Glayzer told BBC News, “We are delighted that the FSA has put its duty to the consumer first in their decision to recommend an EU ban.

“We will be keeping a close eye on industry to see what effect the voluntary ban has,” she added.

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