The Southampton Six food colours are so-called because they were used in mixtures linked to hyperactivity in children in a study published in The Lancet in 2007. The colours aresunset yellow (E110), tartrazine (E102), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124), quinoline yellow (E104), and allura red (E129).
Aldi is claiming an Australian first in removing the six colours – plus anothers colours and preservatives it deems to be suspect – by the end of 2009.
"We chose not to wait for it be legislated in Australia as we believe the findings are enough to demonstrate this is the right thing to do," group managing director Michael Kloeters said.
Where natural alternatives to the additives are available Aldi will consider using these. In some cases, though, they may be no replacement will be used.
The news coincides with Aldi’s opening of a Aus$135m product development and quality assurance centre near Sydney, and a drive to source more of its input from Australia.
The supermarket has 205 stores on the east cost of Australia.
Kloeters’ concern over legislation does not seem pressing, since Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) says usage of the Southampton colours is too low to constitute a public health risk.
It drew this conclusion from a survey conducted in 2006 but published in December. FSANZ has indicated that its opinion still holds.
The agency has been under pressure to take action, however. In September a campaign called ‘Kids First’ – backed by a three groups, Additive Alert, Food Intolerance Network, and Additive Education – called on the government to ban the six colours.
Kids First wrote to Kloeters last week to offer support on the reformulation programme. It urges thatbenzoate preservatives (210 - 218), sulphites (220-228), propionates (280 – 283) and synthetic antioxidants 310-312 and 319-320 also be removed.
In Europe, MEPs voted in July for products containing the colours to be labelled "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children". Some industry commentators have called the labelling, which will be mandatory next year, a de facto ban since no marketer would use such wording on products for children.
The Parliament decision came despite the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) having reviewed the methodology and results of the Southampton study and saying it found no scientific evidence for altering intake recommendations of any of the additives.
However EFSA is in the process of reviewing the available safety data on all food additives, and the Southampton colours are included in this.
UK supermarket Asda has also been vocal and visible about removing additives from its own-brand products.
Aldi’s international websites do not announce parallel moves in other countries.