Colouring concerns aren’t black and white

Parents are voicing demands to ban six artificial colour additives that can increase hyperactivity from foods.

The six colourings — which are contained in widely available cordials, fruit juices, fruit snacks, yoghurts, lollies and ice cream — have already been recommended to be phased out by Britain’s Food Standards Agency as part of a proposed voluntary withdrawal program.

The Food Intolerance Network is releasing today a letter to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, signed by 100 ‘influential Australians’, signalling the group’s concern about the lack of response to the findings of last year’s study on the colourings.

The letter, which is intended to be the first shot in a planned eight-week campaign calling for the additives to be banned by 2010, asks the food authority to “take further action as a matter of priority.”

“This study has added to the existing scientific evidence linking food additives to behaviour in children,” the letter says.

“Critically, the study also showed these additives in combination posed a significant threat to children in general, not just those children with a history of hyperactivity.”

The signatories to the letter include naturopaths, nutritionists and the authors of health books, along with a handful of medical experts.

The study, published online last September by the British medical journal The Lancet, attempted to measure the effects on behaviour of the following food additives:

  • sunset yellow (also referred to by the colour additive number 110),
  • tartrazine (102),
  • carmoisine (122),
  • ponceau red (124),
  • quinoline yellow (104), and
  • allura red (129).

It found the 153 three-year-old children, and 144 eight- and nine-year-old children given one of two drinks containing different mixtures of some of the additives experienced small but significant increases in hyperactivity symptoms.

But because some of the additives were present in both drink mixtures, and both mixtures contained a widely used and naturally occurring preservative called sodium benzoate, the study could not establish whether this or any particular colouring was involved.

The campaign organisers are urging the FSANZ to call for a voluntary phasing out of the six additives by the end of next year, to introduce mandatory warning labels in the meantime, and to legislate to ban the additives completely by 2010.

But the campaign against the additives has drawn fire from some health experts, who claim it is misleading.

The director of the allergy unit at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Robert Loblay, was approached for his support, but wrote back accusing the organisers of making “serious misrepresentations” of the British study’s results.

Dr Loblay said only some children in the British study were affected, and rather than amounting to a “significant threat,” the changes were small and there was “nothing to indicate the changes observed were detrimental to schoolwork or other aspects of intellectual functioning.”

FSANZ spokeswoman, Lydia Buchtmann, said the agency had reviewed the Lancet study and found it “quite weak.” In addition, she said, a recent survey by the agency had shown the six colourings were present in Australian foods at much lower levels than in Europe.

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