Food industry has fanned flames of E-number hysteria

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Related tags: Food additive, E number

Suppliers want rational debate on additives

The food industry only has itself to blame for consumers' irrational suspicion of E-numbers, because it has been peddling unscientific nonsense about these so-called 'nasties' for years, ingredients suppliers have claimed.

Instead of educating consumers about additives, many retailers and manufacturers had seized upon public ignorance as a marketing opportunity and promised rashly to rid their shelves of anything consumers couldn't find in their own store cupboards, said suppliers.

While there were legitimate concerns about a handful of additives, the vast majority of E-numbers performed critical functions in foods and did not deserve to be tarred with the same brush, said Paul Collins, a director at colours supplier GNT UK: "People think all E-numbers are harmful. That's not the case."

Sensient Colours UK marketing manager Vincent Martin said: "I don't think we've defended our corner or educated people enough."

If the 300-plus additives approved for use in the EU were scrapped, half the products on supermarket shelves would disappear overnight, added Food Additives and Ingredients Association (FAIA) executive secretary Richard Ratcliffe.

"Remove emulsifiers, and the uniform dispersion of fats and water that characterises low-fat spreads would be impossible to achieve. Take out antioxidants, and these products would also go rancid within days."

Paul Prendergast, UK md of stabilisers and emulsifiers specialist GC Hahn, said: "There is a lot of emotion whipped up in this debate, but this should be balanced with more objective science about what function an ingredient or additive is performing in a given product."