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Additives should carry health warnings

12th June 2007

A report published today by The Food Magazine reveals that several preservatives and colourings, which are regularly used in food and drink products, are supposed to carry health warnings when used in medicines for human consumption. The additives, some of which have already been linked to behavioural problems in children, do not have to carry any warnings when used in foods and drinks.

Despite government and industry statements that the additives are "safe", medicines warn that the additives may cause "allergic reactions", "mild irritation to the skin, eyes and mucous membranes" and possible "severe hypersensitivity reactions."

We are exposed to much greater quantities of food additives in our daily food and drink compared to medicines, which most of us consume infrequently, but food labels give no warnings for these additives. Medical guidelines say that a warning should be given when these additives are used at even the lowest of levels, with anything over "zero" requiring a warning.

Ian Tokelove, a spokesperson for The Food Magazine, commented, "The Government and the food industry continue to assure us that all food additives are safe for us to eat, but here we have clear medical guidelines which state that over a dozen common additives should carry a health warning. For many people the additives appear to pose no immediate risk, but better labelling would ensure that susceptible adults and children would at least have a chance of identifying, and avoiding, the additives that may cause them harm."

When used in medicines, warnings are given for artificial colourings such as E102 (tartrazine), E110 (sunset yellow) and E124 (ponceau red) and for preservatives such as E211 (sodium benzoate), E220 (sodium dioxide) and E223 (sodium metabisulphite).

These additives are used in a wide range of products, including cakes, sweets, fruit squashes and soft drinks.*

The additive health warnings displayed on medicines (but not on foods or drinks):

Colourings: E102 (tartrazine); E110 (sunset yellow FCF); E122 (azorubine, carmoisine); E123 (amaranth); E124 (ponceau 4R red, cochineal red A) and E151 (brilliant black BN, black PN).
Warning: May cause allergic reactions.

Preservatives: E210 (benzoic acid); E211 (sodium benzoate) and E212 (potassium benzoate).
Warning: Mildly irritant to the skin, eyes and mucous membranes

Preservatives: E220 (sulphur dioxide); E221 (sodium sulphite); E222 (sodium bisulphite); E223 (Sodium metabisulphite); E224 (Potassium metabisulphite) and E228 (Potassium Bisulphite)
Warning: May rarely cause severe hypersensitivity reactions and bronchospasm (difficulty in breathing).

More information

See related article on medicines and labelling at

The information on additive health warnings on medical products is published by the European Commission in Guidelines for Medicinal products for human use - excipients in the label and package leaflet of medicinal products for human use. The warnings listed above apply to medicines for oral consumption - different warnings may apply to medicines taken via different routes such as injection.

Contact: Ian Tokelove on 020 7837 2250; email:

* typical soft drinks and squashes containing these additives include: Irn-Bru (E110, E124, E211); Lucozade Energy (E110, E211, E222), Diet Coke (E211); Fanta Orange (E211); Sprite (E211); Dr Pepper (E211); Vimto squash and Vimto Fizzy (E211); Ribena squash (E211, E222) and Robinsons Orange squash (E223).

The Food Magazine is published by The Food Commission, an independent watchdog which campaigns for healthier, safer, sustainable food in the UK.


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