UK ministers have agreed with a Food Standards Agency proposal on voluntary phasing out of the ‘Southampton six’ food colours by the end of 2009, according the agency’s chief executive.
The FSA’s board recommended in April that there should be voluntary action to remove Tartrazine (E102), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Sunset Yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122), Ponceau 4R (E124) and Allura Red (E129) from food products by 2009, in parallel with action at an EU level.
These six colours, together with the preservative sodium benzoate (E111), were included in mixtures used in the so-called Southampton study, which observed a link between their consumption and hyperactivity in children.
In a letter sent to stakeholders dated 12 November, FSA chief executive Tim Smith said ministers had agreed on the approach proposed, “on the basis that the FSA a takes proportionate and targeted approach to the issue, including flexibility around the products covered and target dates”.
Ministers also said the FSA should work with food manufacturers and retailers who are unable to meet the deadline of end-2009; to this end, the agency has said it will be contacting the industry shortly to solicit information on product categories for this a longer phase-out may be needed.
The phase out is being referred to as “voluntary”; but the Action on Additives Campaign, with was set up by the safe food watchdog The Food Commission in the wake of the Southampton study, calls it a “voluntary ban”.
A spokesperson from the FSA did not respond to a call for clarification on the enforceability of the action in time for publication of this article.
Sodium benzoate has been excluded from the phase out on the grounds that it is used as a preservative in food products. The colours, on the other hand, which are often used in confectionery and other products aimed at children, are used for a cosmetic effect.
At a European level, the Parliament and the Council have agreed that, 18 months after the new Food Improvement Agents Package legislation come into force, any food product containing one of the Southampton six will have to carry
This warning was negotiated during the second reading of the legislation, which will replace outdated legislation on a spectrum of food additives.
Commentators have called the warning message “a de facto ban”, since no food manufacturer would actually want to use such wording on a product.
The warnings decision came in spite of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Commission’s risk assessor, issuing an opinion that the Southampton study in itself did not support grounds for changing intake recommendations of any of the colours.
The main reason for this opinion was down to the study’s methodology; it used cocktails of colours, so it was impossible to ascertain which additive or additives in particular were responsible for the observed effect.
However EFSA is in the midst of a major review of the data on all food colourings previously approved in the EU, and the six suspects are included in that.
Anna Glayzer, coordinator of Action on Additives, said: “Some companies have already removed colours from products, but many are dragging their feet.”
The campaign provided the FSA board with information on more than 1000 products on the market between October 2007 and April 2008 that used one or more of the Southampton colours.
Glayzer told FoodNavigator.com that the campaign is surveying the market again now, and products using the colours being listed on www.actiononadditives.com .