European Commission's hammer falls on Red 2G

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags E number

The European Commission has decided that the food colouring Red 2G
should be banned, following recent reports of the potential
carcinogenic nature of the additive.

The announcement follows a damning opinion by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the safety of food colour Red 2G (E128), the first under its reassessment programme and a strong indication of a wind of change in the use of additives in processed foods.

Red 2G was one of the first food additives to be approved under European legislation, and an ADI (accepted daily intake) of 20mg/kg was granted in 1981 for its use in breakfast sausages with a minimum cereal content of six per cent and in burger meat with a minimum vegetable and/or cereal content of four per cent.

The European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) announced last December that it is reassessing all food additives previously approved for use in the EU since new science has emerged that could cast doubt over their safety.

In the case of Red 2G, that certainly seems the case.

It has been shown to convert in the body to a substance called aniline which, based on several animal studies published since 1999, EFSA's panel said should be considered as a carcinogen for which a genotoxic mechanism cannot be excluded.

At the meeting of the EC committee, it was unanimously agreed that Red 2G should no longer be used as a food colouring in Europe.

This regulation will come into force shortly, when it is published in the official journal of the European Union.

The day following publication, it will be illegal to use Red 2G for food purposes.

As there is no immediate risk to health, products already on the shelf which contain this colouring will be permitted to be sold, but no new products that contain Red 2G will be allowed on the market, said the commission.

The Irish Food Safety Authority advised industry to reformulate as soon as the EFSA concerns were published 13 days ago.

Dr Rhodri Evans, chief specialist toxicology, FSAI, said: "The main manufacturers have either already reformulated or are in the process of reformulating their recipes to remove this colour.

This process should be complete within a month, including any changes to packaging.

"We are not requiring manufacturers and retailers to remove products from sale that have already been made using Red 2G because we consider that any risk to consumers is very small.

The FSAI will continue to work with the industry to ensure products are reformulated to remove Red 2G," he added.

There is significant consumer mistrust of additives, and the conclusions on Red 2G could serve to stir this further.

However while all E-numbers are bundled together in the consumer mindset as 'bad' and 'chemical', natural food-derived colours are also assigned E-numbers and are therefore eyed with equal suspicion.

When complete, the reassessment should serve to quell concerns.

However for the moment there is a strong movement away from E-numbers by food manufacturers and retailers as they seek to deliver products with 'clean labels'.

For instance, UK supermarket ASDA announced in May that it is removing artificial colours and flavours from all of its private label food and beverage products.

An EFSA spokesperson told Food recently that around 45 colours are being reassessed - both natural and synthetic.

The authority is starting with colours as these dominated the first spate of approvals.

It expects to complete the process by end of 2008.

In the meantime, a study by researchers at Southampton University for the UK's Food Standards Agency concluded that several artificial additives increase the risk of hyperactivity and unruly behaviour in young children.

The suspects include sunset yellow (E110), allura red AC (E129) and the preservative sodium benzoate.

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