Drink makers play down additive link to hyperactivity

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Soft drinks Soft drink Food standards agency

Research released today linking sodium benzoate to
hyperactivity in children is not yet definitive enough to remove
the preservative from products, soft drink manufacturers claim.

The reaction from the British Soft Drinks Association (BDSA) follows the release today of research into the effects on children of a mix of colouring and preservative additives food in foods and drinks.

The UK's Food Standards Agency, which commissioned the research, advised parents that eliminating certain artificial food colours from the diets of hyperactive children "might have some beneficial effects on their behaviour".

The FSA's revised stance is based on the conclusion of the study, indicating that "consumption of mixes of certain artificial food colours together with the preservative sodium benzoate could be linked to an adverse effect on on children's behaviour".

The advice is a blow for the soft drinks industry, which is under increasing scrutiny over what goes into its products, with the possible threat of further reformulation ahead.

Sodium benzoate is a particular sore spot for the industry, with the preservative previously implicated in the formation of a cancer causing chemical.

BDSA spokesperson Richard Laming told BeverageDaily.com that based on the current FSA findings, its members saw no immediate need to consider reformulating their beverages.

"We will fully review our action plan on additive use as necessary," said Laming.

The FSA study, conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton, tested two groupings of food colourings and preservatives used frequently in the production of soft drinks, confectionery and ice creams.

The researchers found that the effects of sodium benzoate on children's behaviour in both tests were not consistent, despite being used in similar doses.

The scientists conclude that the tests suggest the product alone was not directly responsible for causing hyperactivity.

However, the FSA added that the preservative, when combined with other additives in soft-drink formulation, still potentially contributed to increased hyperactivity in children.

The FSA will send the research on to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is currently conducting a scientific review of all additives and preservatives used in the EU.

The review will be released later this year.

In a press statement, the BDSA said that the FSA study failed to conclusively link any individual additive to hyperactivity.

"It should be noted that this study used a mixture of ingredients in each trial and due to the nature of the research, the effect of individual colours on the behaviour of children surveyed could not be determined," the BDSA stated.

"In view of this, we support the FSA's decision for this study to be considered by the European Food Safety."

The association stressed that it remained focused on ensuring in was meeting the concerns of its consumers.

"The soft drinks industry takes its responsibility to consumers seriously and will study the FSA research findings in detail and in the context of all research conducted in this area," the BSDA added.

The new study implicating sodium benzoate with a health problem revives the controversy over the chemical's use in soft drinks.

In 2006, an investigation by BeverageDaily.com revealed soft drinks industry leaders had known the preservative may break down under certain conditions in the presence of asorbic acid or citric acid.

Benzine is a potential carcinogen.

The revelation led to a number of the industry's major manufacturers like Coca-Cola having to reformulate its soft-drinks in the US to halt a lawsuit alleging they may contain benzene.

WhileCoca-Cola continued to deny the allegation, said it changed formulas in its Vault Zero and Fanta Pineapple drinks last September to minimise benzene formation, the settlement document said.

The move means Coca-Cola joins several other soft drinks makers who have reformulated some of their products to avoid benzene litigation.

PepsiCo, Coca-Cola's arch-rival, still faces action over the issue.

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