Additives study fall-out attracts attention at the top

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Additives, Food additive, Food standards agency

Concern stirred by publication of the Southampton study on food
additives and children's behaviour has ricocheted to the highest
echelons of British politics, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown
reportedly expressing his worry on behalf of all parents.

According to a report from The Times newspaper, the PM plans to contribute to debate at European level to push for a ban on suspect additives. The European Food Standards Authority is presently in the throes of a safety review of all additives previously approved for European food use. Brown's comments are an indication of the strength of feeling over additives in the UK, and that there is likely to be no let-up in pressure for the industry to present natural alternatives. Speaking at a citizens jury on education yesterday, Brown put the onus on food regulators to ensure there were no dangerous additives in food, saying that parents do not have time to check every item in the supermarket. The publication of the Food Standards Agency funded study in The Lancet​ has sparked strongly-worded headlines across the mainstream media. The Scotsman called it an "unpalatable truth",​ and The Daily Mail said the results are "proof"​ of fears that have been bandied about for years. The stance of the media exerts a strong influence over retailers, who aim to meet the demands of their customers. Indeed, UK retailers ASDA, Tesco and Waitrose yesterday reaffirmed measures they are taking to replace artificial additives, particularly in their own-brand products. Retailers look to manufacturers to come up with additive-free products, who in turn require alternative natural or clean-label ingredients from their suppliers. Ingredient firms are cognisant of this trend and are stepping up to the challenge with R&D and new launches in the natural sector. While the UK is at the vanguard of the anti-additives lobby, suppliers should be taking a pan-European outlook in this area in preparation for fall-out from EFSA's ongoing conducting a safety review of all previously approved additives. In a rather stark contrast to the response from media and Brown, the FSA has been temperate in its response to the study. It said that eliminating them from the diet could have some benefits for hyperactive kids or those with ADHD, but that this should not be seen as a panacea for children's behaviour difficulties. The findings not being taken as hard evidence of a definite connection or as posing a safety threat. The study authors concluded: "We have found an adverse effect of food additives on the hyperactive behaviour of 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children. Although the use of artificial colouring in food manufacture might seem superfluous, the same cannot be said for sodium benzoate, which has an important preservative function. The implications of these results for the regulation of food additive use could be substantial. Food industry bodies said yesterday that they welcomed the scientific attention to additives, and that the FSA is referring the results to EFSA. The Food and Drink Federation pointed out that the exact mixes of additives used in the study were not actually found in any commercially available food and beverage products. The researchers said the mixes were developed based on the colours and additive (sodium benzoate) most commonly used in products aimed at children.

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