Additives back in the public spotlight

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: E number, Soft drink, Sodium benzoate

Growing use of natural ingredients in the UK food and drink
industry took on greater importance this week in anticipation of a
new study again linking widely used additives to behavioural
problems in children.

Several artificial additives, including sunset yellow (E110), allura red AC (E129) and the preservative sodium benzoate, reportedly increase the risk of hyperactivity and unruly behaviour in young children. Full details of the study, conducted by researchers at Southampton University for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), were unavailable prior to publication. It is not the first time artificial colours have been linked to behavioural problems in children, and news of the study may hasten an industry move towards natural ingredients. Claims linking certain artificial additives, known in the EU as 'E-numbers', to hyperactivity have been around since the 1970s. The situation became more serious in the UK when an FSA-funded study reported in 2001 that various artificial additives could cause 'adverse reactions' in children. Deliberations on the work, known as the Isle of White study, by the FSA's Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, eventually resulted in no formal advice to consumers, however. "Firm conclusions"​ could not be reached, the committee said. One of the additives in question, the sodium benzoate preservative, provoked a scandal all on its own recently. An investigation by​ found last year that several soft drinks industry and US government officials had known for 15 years that sodium benzoate could degrade to form benzene, a potentially cancerous chemical, when used in drinks alongside ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or citric acid. The findings prompted recalls and reformulations in the UK and US last year, as well as the first public announcement of the problem. Debate over a wider range of additives now looks set to return to the public spotlight this year, and food and drink firms are reacting by changing their formulas. Sainsbury's, Britain's third biggest supermarket, said last month it would remove artificial flavours and colours, as well as the sweetener aspartame, from its private label soft drinks. Sally Bunday, founder of the Hyperactive Children's Support Group, welcomed Sainsbury's reformulation. "We hope that this announcement from Sainsbury's will lead other soft drink manufacturers and supermarkets to follow suit."​ Many in the food and drink industry believe natural flavours and ingredients will be a major growth driver over the next five years.

Related topics: Ingredients

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