April 22, 2008

European Officials Proceed Cautiously on Food Color Ban

Officials in the European Union said Tuesday they were unlikely to issue a ban on six artificial food colorings that some say may cause hyperactivity in children.

Experts from across the EU's 27 member states discussed the matter earlier this month, after research in Britain suggested a possible link between the colorings and behavior in children.

So far, the European Commission, which proposes and administers legislation on behalf of EU countries, has declined to call for a ban on the colorings, to the dismay of many consumer and health groups.   

The Commission said it would "assess the outcome of the discussion to see whether further action needs to be taken."  However, privately, officials with the Commission say there is little chance, if any, of action for several months.

In 2007, researchers from Southampton University in Britain completed a study that concluded the use of food coloring might cause hyperactivity in children.  The study stirred public opinion about the additives, which include tartrazine (E102), quinoline yellow (E104), sunset yellow (E110), ponceau (E124), allura red (E129), carmoisine (E122) and sodium benzoate (E211).

The British Food Standards Agency, a government watchdog, has urged a voluntary ban of the additives, which could result in hundreds of food and drink products disappearing from shop shelves. However, the ban has yet to translate into any formal government legislation.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) dismissed the Southampton study, concluding that its findings could not be used to change the acceptable daily intakes of food colorings. Nevertheless, the agency, based in the Italian city of Parma, is carrying out additional analyses on combinations of the colorings.  

But for now, there seems to be little desire from the Commission or EU governments to move towards a ban, according to officials and diplomats.

"I suspect they (the Commission) are some way away from a decision," one EU diplomat told Reuters.

"As risk managers, they probably feel quite uncomfortable ... but they just don't have the evidence base to suggest that these are definitely unsafe.

"It's a long game, and there are some assessments being undertaken by EFSA anyway. I can't see the Commission acting on this -- very few member states support taking immediate action so it's definitely a slow burner," he said.


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Southampton University

British Food Standards Agency

European Food Safety Authority