Food watchdog wants E numbers banMove welcomed by children's campaigners

12 April 2008

Four children eating in a kitchen

Children's campaigners have welcomed a recommendation by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to ban six artificial food colourings.

The board of the FSA said UK manufacturers should voluntarily remove the additives from their products by 2009 and also called on the EU to take action.

The FSA says there is an ‘accumulating body of evidence’ that the E numbers are associated with child hyperactivity.

The board agreed the EU should phase out the colourings but said UK manufacturers should voluntarily remove them in the meantime.

Food colourings

The colourings involved are sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), tartrazine (E102) and ponceau 4R (E124).

UK ministers will now consider the recommendation but the final decision will be made at EU level.

The board's chairwoman, Dame Deirdre Hutton, concluded: ‘If one puts consumers first, which is our duty, we must recognise that these colours are not necessary and it would be sensible to have them removed from all foods.’

In a paper to the board, officials said discussions with British companies suggested they would be able to introduce satisfactory alternative ingredients by the end of this year.

Mushy peas

However, they said some products where alternatives had been difficult to find, such as canned and mushy peas, Battenberg and angel cakes, Turkish delight and tinned strawberries, ‘might be lost to the market temporarily or even permanently’.

The paper said some consumers would be disappointed by changes in the colour of their food but many others would be content that action had been taken to protect them.

The Children's Food Campaign, which called on the FSA to ban additives linked to hyperactivity in children, welcomed the recommendation.

Spokesman Richard Watts said: ‘This decision is good news for children and parents, who have known for many years that these additives affect children's behaviour.

‘The FSA had little choice other than to take this step as soon as it received scientific evidence that these additives were about as harmful to children as leaded petrol.’

Voluntary ban

But the Food and Drink Federation said the agency's action was ‘bizarre’ and might be unworkable.

Spokesman Julian Hunt said British manufacturers were already removing such colourings.

He said: ‘UK food and drink manufacturers are already taking these colours out of products on supermarket shelves, so we are surprised the FSA board feels it is an appropriate use of their powers to call for a voluntary ban.

‘The FSA proposal puts the UK at odds with the rest of Europe, where decisions about the safety of additives are made. Such a ban could not apply to imports from Europe since the UK would be the only country to ban these colours, which raises questions about how workable it really is.’

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