Colours

Australia has the highest product count of foods containing the artificial food colours which have been shown in repeated scientific studies to affect children’s behaviour and learning, but food regulators have been unwilling to act.

In the EU since June 2010 foods containing several artificial colours must carry a label warning "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children". In UK these colours are being phased out. But in Australia, NZ and USA children are not protected.

Here is a history of the campaign, links and media resources on food colour:

Media resources on effects of artificial colours on children’s behaviour

Six artificial colours are now banned in the UK and carry a warning in the EU but permitted in Australia.

List of the 46 colour additives permitted in Australia by name and number with problems highlighted

Details of artificial colours restricted or banned overseas 

List of 1154 foods in Australia that contained artificial colours summer 2009 

Media response to CSPI Report on 18 July 2010:

http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/cancer-risk-found-in-food-colourings/story-e6frea83-1225893418510

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/sunday-telegraph/fear-for-kids-as-colouring-linked-to-cancer/story-e6frewt0-1225893356708

http://www.couriermail.com.au/lifestyle/alarm-over-cancer-risk-from-colours-in-common-foods/story-e6frer4f-1225893271520  
 

History

UK May 2006       

  • Nestlé Rowntree removes all artificial colours from the casings of Smarties. The colours being axed include Brilliant Blue (E133); Quinoline Yellow (E104); Sunset Yellow (E110); Ponceau 4R (E124); and Carmoisine (E122). A recent study by experts at Liverpool University identified a possible harmful cocktail effect on the nervous system of artificial colours and chemicals (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1671688,00.html). Two of the colours examined were Brilliant Blue and Quinoline Yellow, which like many others was originally derived from coal tar. Concerns about Brilliant Blue also include a link to hyperactivity and skin rashes. It is even listed as cancer risk by US Environment Protection Agency. Similar health concerns surround the other artificial colours which are being withdrawn. The move by Smarties is part of a major shift by the entire industry. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-385455/Why-blue-smarties-turning-white.html

Australia May 2006                  

  • Nestle in Australia will continue to use artificial colours despite the company's British arm halting production because of health concerns … A spokeswoman for Nestle Australia said the company had received no complaints about blue Smarties and had alternative, naturally coloured sweets available. http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,19071263-24331,00.html

UK June 2007

  • UK supermarkets promise to ban colours A study into additives and their effect on children's behaviour is currently being conducted by the University of Southampton on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It will be published in a few months, but a leaked report revealed certain colourings and additives could increase hyperactivity. The leak coincided with a promise from Britain's major supermarkets to ban potentially dangerous additives from the majority of their own-brand products: Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, Asda and Tesco will be additive-free by the end of the year. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2007/may/08/health.supermarkets 

UK September 2007

  • Publication of the Southampton study in the Lancet: 153 3-year-old and 144 8/9-year-old children were included in the trial. Conclusion: “Artificial colours or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) in the diet result in increased hyperactivity in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the general population.”  McCann D et al. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2007;370(9598):1560-7.  http://www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/mccann.pdf.
     

UK September 2007

Australia September 2007

  • Lawyers slam ‘confusing responses’ to food additive issue by Australian food watchdog FSANZ - Hyperactivity study: lawyers warn that regardless of whether food additives are approved by FSANZ, food companies could be liable should it transpire that there is any long-term harm resulting from the use of a harmful food additive, Foodlegal Bulletin Sept 2007, http://www.foodlegal.com.au/

  •  Two media releases from the Food Intolerance Network:

 6/9/2007 “Food additives again shown to worsen children’s behaviour – when will regulators act? asks Network”.

13/9/2007 “Time for action on kids and food colours”

  • 13/9/2007 Comments from the Food Intolerance Network on the recent FSANZ Factsheet “Effects of artificial colours on children's behaviour”

“New research into the possible effects of artificial food colours on children’s behaviour was published on 6 September, 2007 in the medical journal The Lancet. This study has been reviewed by experts in the United Kingdom and is described by the Food Standards Agency there as a helpful additional contribution to our knowledge on the possible effects of artificial food colours on children’s behaviour.”

Comment from from FIN: Over 30 years of research have consistently shown that there are negative effects from colours. The few studies which did not support this view can be criticised on procedural grounds. The latest study, published in the Lancet on 6//9/2007, is a gold-standard double-blind placebo-controlled study with over 300 children. It is time to stop minimising the harm and to stop talking about “possible” effects – effects are proven by the best that science can manage. To say otherwise is patronising to both science and parents…
 

UK March 2008

  • UK Action on Additives campaign Campaigners at The Food Commission have so far found more than 1,000 food, drink and medicine products that contain one or more of the seven food additives that have been linked to increased hyperactivity in susceptible children. The list of products is available online at www.actiononadditives.com

UK April 2008

  • UK food watchdog calls for a ban on colours. A food safety watchdog has called for a Europe-wide ban on six artificial food colourings after research found a link with hyperactivity in children. A total ban on the use of the colours would have to be agreed by the EU. So the Foods Standard Agency wants UK ministers to push for voluntary removal of the colours by next year. The colours are Sunset yellow (E110), Quinoline yellow (E104), Carmoisine (E122), Allura red (E129), Tartrazine (E102) and Ponceau 4R (E124).  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7340426.stm   “It is the Agency’s duty to put consumers first” … Last year a study by researchers at Southampton University warned the chemicals cause “psychological harm” to children. Professor Jim Stevenson said: “The effects we are seeing here are sufficiently great to represent a threat to health.” When calling for a voluntary ban of six artificial colours, Dame Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the Food Standards Agency said: “It is the Agency’s duty to put consumers first. These additives give colour to foods but nothing else. It would therefore be sensible, in the light of the findings of the Southampton Study, to remove them from food and drink.” http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/woman/health/health/article1027066.ece

Australia May 2008

  • ‘Harmful additives’ in food sold in SA schools. Food sold in South Australian school canteens contains additives banned in several overseas countries, the State Opposition has claimed. Opposition education spokesman David Pisoni today said the additives and preservatives in food approved for sale in school canteens under the Government's Rite Bite food program had been linked to asthma, skin rashes and behavioural problems. http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,23734976-2682,00.html

Australia May 2008

  • Diet Coke's controversial additive to stay. Coca-Cola Australia has no plans to phase out a controversial additive in its drinks, despite moves in Britain to remove it. Sodium benzoate has been linked to damage to DNA and hyperactivity in children, and is used as a preservative in Diet Coke in Australia. Coca-Cola in Britain said it had begun withdrawing the additive from Diet Coke in January in response to consumer demand for more natural products. - http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,23764556-662,00.html

Europe July 2008

  • Artificial colours to come with a warning in Europe: food manufacturers making a product with any of six well-known artificial colours will soon be required to use a warning: "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children" according to a new ruling by the European Parliament. Companies will have to decide whether to continue to use the additives and suffer the effects the warning might have on sales, or invest in reformulation. Many large companies, such as Cadbury and Nestle, have already made pledges to remove all artificial colourings from their products: http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/news/ng.asp?n=86405&c=96gwzHDi%2FgR4NVbwXIrQPA%3D%3D.
     

Australia August 2008

  • Smarties in Australia still contain artificial colours. More than 2 years after Nestle removed artificial colours from Smarties in the UK following concerns about artificial colours and additives in children’s foods, Smarties in Australia still contain five out of six of the artificial colours now banned in the UK.
  • FSANZ puts consumers last. Unlike the UK and EU food standards agencies, Australian food watchdog FSANZ continues to put consumers last. On the official website, FSANZ claims that only a small proportion of the population is affected (where is the evidence?) and have so far failed to acknowledge the colour warning now required in the EU, despite the fact that colour containing foods produced in Australia for European markets will require the warning "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children" http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/
  • Kids First Campaign launched by Additive Alert with support from the Food Intolerance Network and many public health officials:
     

Kids First Campaign flyer

Kids First Campaign letter

Kids First Campaign flyer 2

Open letter to the Australian food regulator FSANZ signed by many public health officials

Kids First Campaign second media release

Australia December 2008

  • Food Intolerance Network response. EU countries have far less colours in their food supply, with only 34 foods containing them in Sweden, 119 in Austria and 344 in Denmark.  The UK had more than 1000 and so far in Australia we have found 638 products with these colours.
     

Australia December 2008

 Australia March 2009

Further information

Artificial colours around the world

List of all colours permitted to be used in Australia/New Zealand