In a letter to the European health commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, a selection of consumer, food and health groups supported a ban on the "purely cosmetic" ingredients while uncertainty remained on their safety. The colours in question are tartrazine (E102), quinoline yellow (E104), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124) and allura red (E129). "We call on the European Health Commissioner, as risk manager, to take a decision in favour of precaution and consumer protection," said the letter. "Use of the six colours should be suspended, and manufacturers should continue to seek alternatives. This is in line with what consumers want, and with current market trends." The appeal came the same day the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) board decided to push for UK manufacturers to phase out the colourings and update advice to parents on the consumption of the additives while recommending a European ban. The decision was met with varied response, as some industry members considered the actions necessary for consumer protection, while others insisted voluntary reformulation was underway but forcing it could put unwanted pressures and costs on manufacturers. A united front The letter was signed by representatives from bodies such as Consumers' Association of Ireland, Friends of the Earth, The Danish Ecological Council, the International Obesity Task Force, The Soil Association, and the UK Food Commission. They said that while there are many risks involved in the consumption of the additives, there are no real benefits. They wrote: "The Southampton Study gives strong grounds to suggest that there is an appreciable risk associated with these additives, even at a much lower level than current ADIs [Acceptable Daily Intake] allow for. "On the other hand, the dyes serve no purpose but to colour food. Other food colours are available, and it is possible to omit food colouring additives, as in organic food." In the letter, they also referred to a survey conducted by the Danish Consumer Council in March, which found that only 2.7 per cent of 1,055 people surveyed thought authorities should not do anything more to restrict additive use. Furthermore, they said that while the industry is acting on removing the colours, with 21 UK manufacturers and 45 Danish manufacturers claiming reformulations are underway, "regulators are lagging behind". Mixed responses to FSA The FSA's conclusions last week that the colours should be phased out of use evoked a mixed bag of responses. Julian Hunt, director of communications for the UK Food and Drink Federation, raised concerns over the possible reformulation hurdles facing some manufacturers. He said: "The overwhelming majority of products don't contain these particular colours. However, there are a handful of popular food and drinks where reformulation has not been possible for technical reasons and we are concerned these will have to be taken off shop shelves." And others strongly welcomed the conclusions. Anna Glayzer, campaign coordinator for the Food Commission, which campaigns for safe and healthy food in the UK, said: "We are delighted that the FSA has put its duty to the consumer first in their decision to recommend an EU ban. We will be keeping a close eye on industry to see what the effect of the voluntary ban has." The group's website contains a list of over 1,000 products available in the UK that still contain the six colours. The British Soft Drinks Association said: "Soft drinks manufacturers have for some time been actively responding to the public's increasing desire for more 'natural' ingredients and a wide variety of beverages are now available to meet this need and innovation in this area is ongoing. "A very small minority of soft drinks manufactured in the UK include the colours highlighted in the Southampton University study. Reformulation is continuing and we are committed to finding alternatives to these colours where possible." The Southampton research team also welcomes the decision. Lead study member, Professor Jim Stevenson, said: "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." However, the researchers stress that more work must be carried out on the effects of sodium benzoate. The FSA board decided this ingredient could not be included in the ban as it was present in both mixtures tested on the child participants, but resulted in inconsistent changes of behaviour, and therefore its effect could not be isolated. It is also used more widely in the industry as a preservative, and appears naturally in food, and so would require greater reformulation.
Forty-two organisations across Europe have united to call for the Commission to suspend the use of the six colourings linked to hyperactivity in the Southampton study.