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Banned food additives permitted in children's medicines

10th March 2007

Medicines for babies and young children frequently contain a cocktail of additives which are banned from foods and drinks designed to be consumed by the under threes.

A survey of 41 medicines aimed at the under threes found only one product which did not contain a food additive or food additives that are prohibited from foods specifically manufactured for the same age group.

The survey, published in The Food Magazine today, found azo dye colourings in five products and multiple artificial sweeteners and preservatives in the majority of products. No colours or sweeteners are permitted in foods and drinks for the under threes and most preservatives are prohibited. The Food Standards Agency confirmed that only additives strictly necessary from a technological point of view and recognised as being without risk to the health of young children are authorised in such foods.

Some medicines warned the additives they contained could have harmful side effects e.g., “E123, E214, E216 & E218 may cause allergic reactions (possibly delayed).” The side effects listed included irritation of the skin, eyes and mucosal surfaces, stomach upset and diarrhoea. Some of these reactions can occur a few days after exposure.

Ian Tokelove, a spokesperson for The Food Magazine, said “Whilst many children will be able to consume these products safely, there will be those who will suffer allergic reactions to these additives. It is time for medicine manufacturers to clean up their act and remove any unnecessary additives. We believe that colourings and artificial sweeteners can be replaced with natural alternatives and the use of preservatives should be rigerously questioned.” The survey found that some medicines contained no preservatives at all, whilst similar products contained two or three.

Notes:

Flavourings

The majority of medicines also contained artificial flavourings. These are not prohibited in foodstuffs for the under threes but official guidance suggests that natural alternatives should be used instead.

Additives in food

Just over half (23) of the medicines warned of possible side effects linked to consumption of specific food additives. Foods and drinks for the over threes routinely contain these additives, which will be consumed in much greater and more regular quantities than those used in medicines, and yet no such warnings are given. The Food Commission believes that any foodstuff containing an additive or additives that may cause allergic reactions or other negative physiological effects should carry a clear warning. Ideally, such additives should be removed and replaced with safer alternatives.

Regulation

In the UK, the regulation of medical products is the responsibility of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). See http://www.mhra.gov.uk/

More information

Contact: Ian Tokelove at the Food Commission on 020 7837 2250; email: press@foodcomm.org.uk

The following pages may also be of interest

  • Articles: A spoonful of sugar?
    Most additives are banned from foods and drinks for the under threes, but medicines for babies and young children often contain a cocktail of the very same additives. Ian Tokelove and Annie Seeley report.