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Campaigners call for action after EFSA decision on food additives and children’s health

Friday 14th March 2008

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) today published its opinion that a UK study provides limited evidence that two different mixtures of synthetic colours and sodium benzoate tested ‘had a small and statistically significant effect on activity and attention in some children selected from the general population.’ EFSA had been asked to review the evidence by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), which had commissioned research to investigate the matter.

However, EFSA has concluded that because of ‘considerable uncertainties‘ the findings of the study cannot be used as a basis for altering the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of the respective food colours or sodium benzoate.

Anna Glayzer, coordinator of the Action on Additives campaign, commented, “Where is the public interest in keeping these additives in our food? EFSA has backed up the FSA’s research which shows that these additives can have an affect on some children, but the limited nature of the study means that EFSA is unable to recommend robust action to remove them from our food and drink."

"The public should be aware that six of the seven tested additives are artificial colourings which are totally unnecessary ingredients in the first place. We do not need them in our food and we would urge the European Commission to pursue a ban. Further testing would cost millions and take years, and is simply not a viable option. In the meantime, the Action on Additives campaign calls on responsible food manufacturers to take steps to remove these food additives as soon they can.”

The Action on Additives campaign has published details of over 1,000 foods, drinks and medicines which contain one or more of the suspect additives at http://www.actiononadditives.com/. Campaign co-ordinator Anna Glayzer says, "Having easily found over one thousand products we are worried that there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, more products for sale in the UK that contain these additives. We have found the additives in products such as sweets, cakes, drinks and medicines – many of which are clearly targeted at children."

For further information contact:

Anna Glayzer, work: 020 7837 2250; email: anna@actiononadditives.com
Ian Tokelove, work: 020 7837 2250; email: ian@foodcomm.org.uk

For lots more information please use the free search facility on the online database at http://www.actiononadditives.com/

The seven food additives linked to hyperactive behaviour in children are;

E102 Tartrazine
E104 Quinoline Yellow
E110 Sunset Yellow
E122 Carmoisine
E124 Ponceau 4R
E129 Allura Red
E211 Sodium Benzoate

The first six are artificial colourings, the seventh is a preservative. The additives may be listed by E number or name.

300 different manufacturers appear on the Action on Additives database, with Cadbury Trebor Bassett contributing the most products so far, closely followed by the KCB Group and the high street chain Woolworths. See www.actiononadditives.com/Media/1000_additives/

cadbury creme eggCadbury Creme Egg is coloured with Sunset Yellow (E110), one of the food additives that the Action on Additives campaign says should be banned from children’s food.

Researchers in Sweden have found 43 products which contain the six colourings used in the research. In Austria 119 products were found and in Denmark 344 products. This contrasts with 900 products on the Action on Additives database which contain the colourings (just over 100 other products contain the preservative sodium benzoate, the seventh additive included in the research).

The UK list includes 15 different products made by confectionery giant Haribo, but in Denmark, where Haribo is also widely sold, no artificial colours have been found by campaigners in their products. Glayzer says, ‘This is further demonstration that these colourings are unnecessary. Manufacturers can remove them, but will not do so if they think they can get away with it.’

When used in medicines all of the food additives should come with a health warning that they, ‘may cause allergic reactions.’ No such warnings appear on food or drink. See www.foodcomm.org.uk/press_07_additives.htm

All of the additives are banned from food and drink made for the under threes. See www.foodcomm.org.uk/press_07_medicines.htm

Sunset Yellow, Carmoisine and Ponceau 4R are banned in the US.

Different viewpoints

Regulators

European legislation states that food additives may only be allowed into food products if there is a, ‘technological need’ for their presence, if they, ‘do not mislead the consumer,’ and if they, ‘are safe.’ Seehttp://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/guidance.pdfRegulators believe there is a technological need for artificial food colourings, that they do not mislead consumers and that they are safe.

Campaigners

The Action on Additives campaign regards food colourings as purely cosmetic (no technological need) and believes they can be deliberately used to mislead consumers (e.g. colourings and flavourings are used instead of real fruit see http://www.foodcomm.org.uk/press_08_flavourings.htm.) If there are also safety concerns regarding certain artificial food colourings then there is absolutely no justification for their continued usage

Timeline

July 1997 to June 2000: Project T07004 is commissioned by the UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to investiate ‘Do food additives cause hyperactivity and behaviour problems in a geographically defined population of 3-year-olds?’ This becomes known as the ‘Isle of Wight study’.

October 2002: The Food Commission (an independent watchdog) exposes the project results, which had not become publicly available. The results demonstrated that parents observed an improvement in behaviour when the additives were removed from the children’s diet, and an increase in hyperactivity when the children were given the additives. However, clinic-based psychological test results did not show any significant effect of the additives on the 3-year-old’s behaviour. See http://www.foodcomm.org.uk/additive_2002.htm

September 2004 to March 2007: In response to public concern The Food Standards Agency (FSA) commissions further research, Project T07040, to investigate ‘Chronic and acute effects of artificial colourings and preservatives on children's behaviour’. This becomes known as the ‘Southampton study’.

September 2007: The Southampon study is published. Results show that two mixtures of food additives can have a “significant adverse effect on the average level of hyperactivity” on groups of children. See http://tinyurl.com/3e34he.

The FSA asks the Committee on Toxicity (COT) to comment on the results. COT confirms that, “the results of this study are consistent with, and add weight to, previous published reports of behavioural changes occurring in children following consumption of particular food additives” but also point out that, “it is… not possible to extrapolate the findings to additives other than the specific combination in the mixtures used in this study.” See http://tinyurl.com/3dbw4o

The Food Commission and other campaign groups call for the additives to be removed from food and drink. The FSA advises that, ‘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.’ Glayzer comments, ‘Our findings show that this advice is virtually impossible to follow. Labels on the products we found were hard to read and inconsistent, with additives listed sometimes by name, sometimes by E-number.’

The FSA asks the EFSA Panel on additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food (AFC Panel) to consider the research as part of an ongoing re-evaluation on the safety of all food colours.

March 2008: EFSA publishes its opinion.

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

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