Soft drink makers press 'natural' innovation claims

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Soft drinks Efsa

Beverage manufacturers will continue to focus on using innovative
"natural" ingredients in their products amidst growing
concerns over the safety of their current formulations, according
to the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA).

The BSDA's claims were a response to the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) assessment on additive use last week, in which it ruled that there wasn't currently a need for manufacturers to reformulate their products.

Despite the EFSA findings not calling for reformulation of their products, the association said soft drinks groups were already looking for alternative ingredients due top consumer demand for more 'natural' goods.

In a statement, the BSDA claimed in addition that by not calling for mandatory product reformulations, the EFSA verdict reflected the safety of ingredients currently used in their products.

"All ingredients used by the soft drinks industry are approved as safe in use by the Food Standards Agency (FSA)," the BSDA stated.

"Soft drinks manufacturers have for some time been responding to the public's increasing desire for more 'natural' ingredients and a wide variety of beverages are now available to meet this need."

EFSA's verdict EFSA on Friday released its response to the Southampton study (McCann et al, 2007), which looked how children were affected after consuming various mixes of colourings and additives in drinks.

These additives were often used to some extent within a variety of soft drinks and food products.

Despite having received some additional information from the researchers that was not included in the original report write up published in The Lancet back in September , EFSA concluded that there was no basis for changing the additives because there were considerable uncertainties in the study.

In particular, it said there was inconsistency with respect to age and gender of the children, the effects of the two mixtures of additives tested and the type of observer (parent, teacher, independent assessor).

The clinical relevance of the effects measured was unknown, and there was a lack of information on dose-response.

The relevance of the small effect size was also unknown.

EFSA's opinion may cause dismay in the anti-additive lobby, but the book is far from closed on the safety of food additives.

EFSA is currently conducting a review of all food colourings, including those used in the mixtures tested for the Southampton Study, and it expects to issued opinions on these by the end of the year.

Voices have already been raised from some quarters calling for the additives tested in the study to be banned outright.

However, such a ban would have to come from the European Commission.

As the food risk assessor for the bloc, it is EFSA's job to advise on scientific matters.

And as EFSA sees no scientific grounds for a regulatory change based on the available evidence, no changes are likely to be forthcoming.

The Southampton study The study, which was published in The Lancet last year, was conducted in two phases.

In stage one, 153 three-year olds and 144 eight- and nine-year olds were given one of two drink mixes containing artificial food colours and additives, or a placebo.

The children were drawn from general population and across a range of hyperactivity and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) severities.

Mix A contained sunset yellow (E110), tartrazine (E102), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124) and sodium benzoate (E110).

This same mix was used in an earlier study on a cohort of three-year-olds which was deemed inconclusive because the effects were not confirmed by clinicians.

Mix B contained sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129) and sodium benzoate (E110).

Phase one lasted six weeks, and every child consuming the mixes and the placebo for one week each, with a one week wash-out period between each.

Parents were asked to keep other sources of artificial additivs out of the diet, and to keep a diary of violations.

Phase two involved some of the children from the older group - responders and non-responders - during two half-day session a week apart, at which they were given either a placebo or an active drink similar to mix A or B, but the whole day's dose was given at once.

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