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UK Food Standards Agency cites Southampton study in new recommendation on food additives

The Food Standards Agency today announced its decision to recommend to Ministers the phasing out of six colours in food and drink in the EU.

These six colours - sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), tartrazine (E102) and ponceau 4R (E124) - had been shown to increase hyperactive behaviour of children in a study published by a University of Southampton research team in September 2007 (Jim Stevenson, Donna McCann, Edmund Sonuga-Barke and John Warner).

The FSA Council says that the basis for its recommendation is that:

* the Southampton study is "a scientific study of the highest quality";

* there is an accumulating body of evidence that there is an association between the consumption of certain food colours and children's behaviour;

* all food additives must be safe for use in order to be approved. The available evidence now leaves uncertainty as to whether that safety can be confidently asserted;

* the technological function of colours in food is about conferring a consumer choice benefit rather than a safety benefit; and

* a significant part of the UK food industry is already moving away from the use of artificial food colours in responding to consumer demand.

The Southampton research team welcomes the recognition by the FSA of the case for removal of these colours from food. The possible role of food colours in exacerbating the level of hyperactivity in children has been mooted for over 30 years. There has been accumulating evidence for such an effect on children with more extreme levels of hyperactivity or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The Southampton team has now completed two studies showing an effect in children from the general population. The first of these was conducted with colleagues from the David Hide Asthma and Allergy Research Centre on the Isle of Wight(1). The more recent study was published in September 2007 in the Lancet(2).

More research is needed to clarify the possible effects of sodium benzoate on behaviour, they say. This additive was included in the Isle of Wight and Southampton studies but its effects could not be isolated from that of the food colours and a double-blind placebo-controlled food challenge study of sodium benzoate alone is called for. There also needs to be a more detailed examination of the role of histamine release as a possible biological mechanism for the effects of colours on hyperactivity, they add.

"The change of regulation recommended by the FSA to remove these six colours will be welcomed by parents, especially those wanting to avoid exposing their children to artificial colours and who were trying to achieve this by monitoring the constituents of the food bought for the family," says study member Professor Jim Stevenson. "It must be emphasised that the eventual removal of these colours from food will not by itself eliminate hyperactivity and certainly not for all children. Artificial colours are just one of a wide range of social and biological influences on hyperactivity. However it is the view of the Southampton team that removing the colours from food will improve the health of children."

1 Bateman B, Warner JO, Hutchinson E, Dean T, Rowlandson P, Gant C, Grundy J, Fitzgerald C, Stevenson J (2004). The effects of a double blind, placebo controlled, artificial food colourings and benzoate preservative challenge on hyperactivity in a general population sample of preschool children. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 89, 506-511.

2 McCann D. Barrett A, Cooper A, Crumpler D, Dalen L, Grimshaw K, Kitchen E, Lok K, Porteous L, Prince E, Sonuga-Barke E, Warner JO & Stevenson J (2007). Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo controlled trial. Lancet, 370, 1560-1567.

Sarah Watts | alfa
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