Confectioners have pledged to rid products of the colours used in the controversial University of Southampton study rather than apply warning labels, following a decision by the European Parliament.
As part of a legislative package simplifying rules for authorising food additives, flavourings and enzymes, MEPs ruled that foods containing any of the six colours used in the study (which were linked with hyperactivity) should be labelled not only with the relevant E number but also with the words: “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”
The move comes despite the fact that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently concluded that the findings of the study “cannot be used as a basis for altering the acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) of the food colours [E110, E104, E122, E129, E102, E124]”
While MEPs claimed the new warning label was an acceptable compromise that fell short of a ban, but gave consumers the information they need, it effectively amounted to a de facto ban, claimed independent regulatory expert Neville Craddock. “As with irradiation and GM-derived ingredients, this effectively amounts to a de facto ban since, to quote the Parliament rapporteur, no manufacturer will want to say that its products may cause hyperactivity.”
He added: ”This will surely lead to negative claims such as “free from azo-dyes”? Would “no azo” even be an implied claim under the Nutrition and Health Claims legislation, suggesting a reduction of hyperactivity (a behavioural function, even if not directly child development) compared to a competitor product? Why else would it be used?"
Mars, which currently uses Carmoisine (E122) and Quinoline Yellow (E104) in its Starburst Choozers sweets, said this would change next year: “All Mars confectionery will be free from all of the colours highlighted in the Southampton University study by the beginning of 2009 - including Starburst Choozers.”
Cadbury, which uses Sunset Yellow (E110) in its new Crème Egg Twister bars and Quinoline Yellow (E104) in its Trident Splash Apple and Apricot gum, said: “Cadbury had already committed to removing artificial colours from its confectionery (work was already underway before the Southampton study) so we do not envisage that the European Parliament’s decision will have any impact on our business.”
While most supermarket own-label products do not now contain the ‘Southampton Six’, several well-known branded products including Irn Bru, various Haribo products and Princes’ Jucee Lime Cordial still contain at least one of them, and will have to add the warning labels if they are not phased out.
Labour MEP Peter Skinner, who voted for the proposal, said: “I believe that if consumers are to be given a choice to end the use and consumption of such additives in their own families then a labelling process is a fair compromise. The contribution the Azo colours have to poorer health and possible behavioural problems is becoming clear. It is right to act now to promote the best standards we can.”
Fellow Labour MEP David Martin added: “The Southampton study has alerted this chamber to the potential dangers of azo dyes used to colour certain sweets and drinks. Including these dangers on labelling is an important step to protect consumers from the adverse effects they can cause, such as hyperactivity in children. EU-wide regulation on such additives is essential.”
In parallel to the new authorisation procedure for new additives, flavourings and enzymes, enshrined in the legislation, all such substances already on the market (around 300 additives and 2,600 flavourings) will gradually be re-assessed.
Additives/flavourings/enzymes that are currently authorised may stay on the market but once the updating process is complete, any such substance not on the new EU-wide ‘approved list’ will be banned.