The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has refused calls to persuade the European Commission (EC) to ban various additives after research was unveiled directly linking their consumption to hyperactivity in children.
Addressing an open board meeting this week, the FSA board called for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to urgently consider the research, published by Southampton University last week. And it said it wants the EC to act swiftly once EFSA reports back to it on additive usage across the EU. But it said it did not believe the risk posed by the latest findings was sufficiently urgent to call for an immediate ban.
Campaign group Sustain slammed the FSA Board for not taking much tougher action. Richard Watts, coordinator of Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign, said: “Parents will be furious that the FSA has chickened out of taking this vital step to protect their children.
“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.”
FSA chair Deirdre Hutton was highly critical of the food industry’s slowness to respond to consumer concern on the use of artificial additives. “There is astonishment that industry has not reacted more quickly in taking these colours out of our food,” she said. “It is their duty to respond to consumer demand and we would expect them to respond to that demand.”
Hutton accepted that the FSA’s earlier advice to consumers following publication of the research, to avoid giving foods containing the additives tested to potentially hyperactive children, had “not been sufficiently helpful to parents”
Board member Chris Pomfret, previously a director with Unilever, pointed out that manufacturers had been working for many years to remove artificial additives. However, he felt more could be done by the industry, especially since natural colours had been available for a number of years and were proven to be safe.
Dr Paul Berryman, Leatherhead Food International’s director of research, told Food Manufacture while there was no technical reason why the industry should not replace artificial additives, criticising its inaction was unfair. He added that large numbers of companies had been replacing artificial additives for a number of years.
In reaching its conclusion, the FSA board considered the advice of the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food (COT). COT chairman professor Ieuan Hughes, pointed out that the latest research had not been intended to prove the biological mechanisms of causality between the additives and hyperactivity. “COT were reluctant to explain this as a cause and effect, since the study was not set up to do that,” he said. However, it was accepted that the results posed a potential health concern to as much as 10% of the UK population.
A coalition of groups including Friends of the Earth and the National Union of Teachers, wrote to the FSA before its board meeting pressing it to move to ban harmful additives. And Erik Millstone, Sussex University's professor of science and technology, and Tim Lang, City University's professor of food policy, also called for tougher action from the FSA on additives.