Processors move to quell health fears over additives

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fsa, E number, Food standards agency

The biggest trend in the UK market in recent years has been for
manufacturers and retailers to reduce the use of additives, as well
as replacing additives used with non-artificial alternatives, says
the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

The FDF made the statement in response to a comment, "Hooked on Es", published across Decision News Media sites on 10 September. Below is the full copy of the FDF's response, along with a reply by FoodProductionDaily.com editor Ahmed ElAmin, who wrote the original comment. From: Julian Hunt, Director of Communications, Food and Drink Federation ​ Dear Ahmed, I was disappointed to see that your editorial on the FSA-sponsored study into food colourings followed the lead taken by the more sensational elements of the British media, rather than focusing on the facts ('Hooked on Es' - 10 September). So I hope you don't mind if I try to redress the balance. For starters, I should remind your readers that the biggest trend in the UK market in recent years has been for manufacturers and retailers to reduce the use of additives in their products, as well as replacing additives used with non-artificial alternatives. Our industry prospers solely​ on its ability to meet consumer demands for products that look good, taste great and are safe. That's the one immutable law of the grocery sector. And our ongoing work to address consumer concerns about additives shows not only that we are a responsive industry, but we are responsible too. In your editorial, you claim that the colourings under scrutiny can be easily substituted in all food and drink products. This is just not the case - as your readers will know, some manufacturers are overcoming all sorts of technical hurdles in their efforts to change product formulations. So the achievements to date by our members and their retail customers should be celebrated - not dismissed out of hand. Turning to the events of last week, it was absolutely right for us to point out that the findings from the study needed to be treated carefully. But this should not be interpreted as industry being dismissive or defensive. The FSA's independent Committee on Toxicity itself said the results did not prove the colours caused increased hyperactivity, rather they provided supporting evidence for a link. In addition, COT said the available evidence did not identify whether this association was restricted to certain food additives or combinations of them. Contrary to your analysis, the FSA was also unequivocal that any observed increases in hyperactive behaviour were more likely to be linked to one or more of the colours tested, not the preservative sodium benzoate. Nevertheless, industry is not complacent; companies will, of course, be busily digesting the research, and the FSA's subsequent advice, all of which will feed into their ongoing reviews of product formulations. Rather worryingly, you claim these colours are banned in some parts of Europe. This is not the case. The FSA confirms that all EU member states permit the use of these colours and so do countries in the European Economic Area, including Norway. Judgement about the safety of these colours is something that must be addressed at a European level. That's why we welcome the fact that the FSA is referring the research to the European Food Safety Authority as part of its ongoing review of all food additives. Until it makes a decision, however, they remain absolutely legal colours for companies to use in products if they so choose. In the meantime, you can rest assured that our members will continue to do what they do best: meeting the demands of consumers. And that does not mean pandering to the demands of tabloid headline writers. ********** Ahmed ElAmin responds: ​ The Food and Drink Federation makes a valid point -- that industry has gone a long way toward reducing the use of artificial colours and preservatives. However, it is a point that should have been made at the time the Food Standards Agency (FSA) released the study. I believe that the industry's initial response, whether through representative organisations or by individual companies, did not serve to reassure consumers. It would have been in industry's best interests to get the message out fast about its efforts at reformulation. This observation was the point of my comment, and it was meant as advice to decision makers working in the industry, as this group is the target audience of our publications, not the public. Additionally, no where did I say that "colourings under scrutiny can be easily substituted in all food and drink products"​. I did point out bans in certain countries. I had outdated information and have since corrected the statements after some research. Some of the chemicals were previously banned by Norway, Austria and Australia but those bans have since been removed. According to Jane Hersey, national director of the Feingold Association, of the US three of the dyes used in the study are permitted in the US and three are banned. Allura red AC, Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow are allowed in the US, while Quinoline Yellow, Carmoisine and Ponceau 4R are not. None of the colour additives are currently banned by Australia, which lifted a ban on Quinoline Yellow in 2003. The country does not permit tartrazine to be used in medicines. Statements released yesterday indicate that the FSA and industry are now taking their message to the public. The FSA seems to have amended its advice to parents by not solely concentrating on parents with hyperactive children. "The research suggests that eating or drinking certain mixes of Sunset yellow (E110), Quinoline yellow (E104), Carmoisine (E122), Allura red (E129), Tartrazine (E102) and Ponceau 4R (E124) - together with the preservative sodium benzoate, could be linked to a negative effect on children's behaviour,"​ the FSA stated in releasing some of the industry statements. The FSA has asked the food industry to provide more information about products containing these colours and will be providing links to their information from a dedicated page on its website. "This is a good first step but it's clear that more needs to be done to enable consumers to make informed choices,"​ the FSA added. The British Retail Consortium stated that all of its members have made "enormous progress" in recent years, with "virtually" no own-brand products still containing the colours. In the small number of products that still contain artificial colours, retailers continue to research alternative solutions that deliver the same quality, the BRC stated. Some retailers have taken the option to withdraw those products for which alternative colours have not been identified. The British Soft Drinks Association said the "vast majority" of its members' products do not include the colours identified in the study. Research into reformulation is ongoing and the organization will continue to keep the FSA and the public informed. The Food and Drink Federation noted that independent research from Mintel confirms that the move away from artificial additives has been the biggest trend in new product development in the UK since 2003. So far this year, 24 per cent of all products launched were free of artificial additives, according to the FDF, quoting Mintel. "As a result of all this activity, the industry's use of the colours highlighted in the FSA's study has fallen dramatically since 2003 - by as much as 90 per cent, according to one estimate - and our reformulation work continues,"​ the FDF stated. The BSDA, the FDF, Asda, Marks and Spencer, and Sainsbury's have all created internet sites where the public can get information about the reformulation efforts. The websites can be accessed at the FSA website: http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2007/sep/industrycolourlinks

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