FSA quizzes industry on additive removal plans

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Food standards agency

The UK's Food Standards Agency has requested the food industry tell
it what action has been taken to remove certain artificial
additives from products and the timeframe for achieving further
removals, in the light of the Southampton study linking some
colours and sodium benzoate to hyperactivity in children.

The Southampton study, commissioned by the FSA, concluded that cocktails of artificial colours and the preservative sodium benzoate can have an effect on children with hyperactivity or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The request was made following a meeting that took place on Wednesday at which some food industry representatives reported on progress already made, and others set out their plans and deadlines. As well as wanting to be kept in the loop as to progress on additives removal by industry representatives who were at the meeting, the FSA is also encouraging those who were not there to tell it about their plans. This information will be used as part of a discussion on additives, planned to take place at the FSA's open board meeting in February 2008. The FSA declined to give further comment to FoodNavigator.com about what it actually expects of industry in respect of removing additives from food products. Rather, it drew attention only to a statement made by Dame Deirdre Hutton after the agency's board meeting on September 20: "The FSA Board expresses its astonishment that industry has not moved more quickly to remove these artificial colours from their products, in the light of serious concerns raised by consumers… Although some parts of industry have already moved to replace these artificial colours and to provide information to their customers, the board is urging the whole of industry to act responsibly and swiftly." ​For now, all the additives in the study are legal in Europe, and as such no moves can be taken to make food companies stop using them. However the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is in the throes of reviewing all food colourings previously approved for use in the EU, and has said it will give priority to the six colours at the heart of the Southampton study: sunset yellow (E110), tartrazine (E102), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124) quinoline yellow (E104), and allura red (E129). Some of the public interest groups present at Wednesday's meeting also asked the agency if it would issue a statement clarifying what further action it would like to see taken in respect of the colours used in the study prior to a decision from EFSA. In response, the FSA said it "recognized that an update would help provide clarification un this interim period and agreed to consider this further".​It is not just a question of removing additives from formulations, however. Dame Hutton also said at last month's board meeting that the agency recognises that it is not always easy for consumers to identify these colours and is urging industry to make it easier for people to know which products contain them. Indeed, the agency said that that the intention of the meeting was "to discuss any further action that could be taken to provide practical help to parents who want to avoid the colours used in the Southampton study".​Since the publication of the study in The Lancet in early September, public interest groups have expressed extreme concern about the continued use of the colours in question. For instance Richard Watts, coordinator of Sustain's Children's Food Campaign said: "It is simply not good enough to give consumers a bit more help to avoid these unnecessary additives. Consumers are clear they don't want to have to spend ages scanning labels to see if a product will threaten the health of their child. And people do not see the label on around half the food and drink they consume. "A ban on these additives is the only appropriate step.​" The food industry, on the other hand, has highlighted efforts that were already underway, even before the study, to reduce use of artificial additives.

Related topics: Flavors and colors

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