Industry sets voluntary deadlines on additive removal

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fsa

UK food and beverage manufacturers have committed themselves
to removing a group of six colour
additives from their products by the end of 2008,
according to a regulatory report published yesterday.

The deadlines put food manufacturers on notice that they must reformulate or get cut out of the supply chain.

Regulatory action is being considered by the FSA if deadlines are not met.

The report reveals agreements made at a meeting that took place on 9 October between food industry representatives and the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) about possible health issues relating to six colour additives and sodium benzoate (E111).

The six colours are sunset yellow (E110), tartrazine (E102), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124) quinoline yellow (E104), and allura red (E129).

The FSA is currently considering setting a voluntary deadline of October 2008 for retailers and manufacturers to remove the colour additives.

The FSA said it would consider a proposed statement: "The FSA would like to see food producers and providers take the necessary voluntary action to remove the specified colours from the food chain by a specific date e.g. October 2008 at which point the FSA will consider what regulatory action might be taken."

One retailer present at the meeting, unnamed in the report, claimed it had already removed the colours used in the study from its own brand products.

The same company said it was also moving to ensure all dyes and artificial colours are removed from their products by 1 July 2008.

Another retailer said that 99 per cent of products across its range will be free of all artificial colours by the end of 2007.

"However, a replacement for sodium benzoate as a preservative in soft drinks is causing difficulty and a solution has yet to be discovered," the FSA stated.

Some retailers indicated they had yet to find alternatives for the use of these colours in canned strawberries and canned peas, the FSA reported.

"Food manufacturers reported that they had been taking action to remove the artificial colours used in the study and this has been ongoing for several years," the reported stated.

Retailers present at the meeting include Morrison Supermarkets, Somerfield Stores, and Marks and Spencer.

Delegates from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) were also present.

Retailers rejected a proposal to publish a list of foods and drinks that contained the additives in the study.

They argured such a move would be impractical, as "many" products are in the process of being reformulated so the list would not be representative of the market.

Retailers also highlighted that industry had taken measures to advise consumers by highlighting information on front of pack statements, such as "Contains no artificial colours".

In relation to concerns raised about sweets sold loose and without such information, the FSA said it would consider the issue further.

"The meeting was advised that the three major confectionary companies were either in the process of or had already removed artificial colours from their products," the FSA reported.

Beverage industry representatives noted that the additive tartrazine, featured in the study, had not been used in soft drink formulations for about 15 years.

Representatives added that about seven per cent of soft drink on the market needed to be reformulated to cut out the named additives.

The industry also claimed that the majority of drinks brands currently aimed at children did not contain the colours identified by the Southampton study, according to the FSA report.

A technical symposium for industry, particularly targeting small and medium sized companies without the research and development resources of their larger competitors, is being organised by the FSA and the Food and Drink Federation.

In a 1 November letter sent to a number of major retailer and industry associations, the FSA expanded its call for information on the use and removal of the additives.

The FSA now wants more industry organisations and smaller companies to report by the 14 December deadline.

The information will be used as part of a debate on the additives scheduled to take place at the FSA board meeting in February 2008.

The commitments from industry follow on from the FSA's publication of a study linking some colours and sodium benzoate to hyperactivity in children.

The study, commissioned by the FSA, links injestion of cocktails of the artificial colours and the preservative sodium benzoate to hyperactivity or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) on children.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently reviewing all food colourings previously approved for use in the EU, and has said it will give priority to the six colours at the heart of the FSA study.

A recent Mintel survey found that consumer demand was already forcing consumers to cut artificial additives from their products.

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