The Southampton study, published in The Lancet in September 2007, linked cocktails of certain food colourings – including Ponceau 4R – and sodium benzoate to hyperactivity in children in the general population.
While the use of Ponceau 4R is legal, The Marton Rock Company, based in the British seaside town of Blackpool, has been censured for using too much. Investigators on a routine visit to the company took samples from eight sticks and found levels of the colouring at 65mg per kg. The legal limit is 50mg per kg.
According to The Blackpool Gazette, the company had received warnings on three other occasions.
The fine is not steep, however. The company’s manager Ayyub Patel was fined £180 with £212 costs and ordered to pay a £15 victims' surcharge.
Rock is a traditional seaside candy in the UK, which resembles a candy cane and has the town's name lettered throughout the inside.
Although the European Food Safety Authority did not find the Southampton study to be grounds for changing the intake advice, the study has sparked action to remove the additives when they serve no function beyond the cosmetic.
In the UK, the colours – Tartrazine (E102), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Sunset Yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122), Ponceau 4R (E124) and Allura Red (E129) – are being phased out following a ministerial vote for a ‘voluntary ban’. At the European level manufacturers will have to label products with a warning as of mid-2010 – a mandatory measure that is likely to act as a de facto ban.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency is keeping an online resource of companies that have removed the Southampton colours from products, at http://www.food.gov.uk/safereating/chemsafe/additivesbranch/colours/colourfree
However some major food manufacturers were criticised earlier this year as they had pledged to remove the colours from all products by 2008 – but, according to The Food Commission, they were still showing up in some Mars and Cadbury products this April.