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FDA committee rejects bid for EU-style warnings over food colours, hyperactivity

A US government advisory panel says there is no proof that foods with artificial colourings cause hyperactivity in most children and there is no need for these foods to carry special warning labels.

The US FDA convened its Food Advisory Committee – a panel of experts in nutrition, toxicology, food science, immunology, and psychology – after agency scientists for the first time decided that while typical children may be unaffected by the dyes, those with behaviour problems may see their symptoms worsen by eating food with synthetic colour additives.

Once the agency conceded that some children might be negatively affected by the foods, it had to decide what to do. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, petitioned the agency to ban the dyes or, at the very least, mandate warnings that foods containing the dyes cause hyperactivity in children. Major food manufacturers staunchly defended the safety of artificial dyes and said no bans or warnings were needed.

The FDA did not ask the committee about a ban, and the committee voted 8 to 6 that even a warning was not needed.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association hailed the votes: “We agree with today’s FDA’s advisory committee finding which determined that there is insufficient evidence of a causal link between artificial colors and hyperactivity in children.”

The GMA also stressed that the safety of artificial colours had been affirmed through extensive review by the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), while pointing out that certified colour additives must be listed in ingredients lists, enabling consumers to avoid them should they wish to do so.

IFIC: Insufficient evidence of causal link between colours and hyperactivity

IFIC welcomed the decision not to push for labeling as a victory for common sense. Lindsey Loving, senior director, food ingredient & technology communications, said: “The fact that the committee did not push for a warning statement is in line with what the science shows, which is that there is insufficient evidence to support a causal link between food colours and hyperactivity in children.

“Adding a warning statement could confuse the general public for whom the message is not intended, and could cause alarm regarding safe food ingredients that have been consumed by the general public for years. Research will likely continue by those invested in the issue, but as far as the safety of food colours, the existing research establishes their safety.”

Colours, kids and controversy

Controversy over the safety of artificial food colours has been raging for years, but reached a new frenzy in 2007 following the publication of a highly controversial study conducted by the University of Southampton in the UK suggesting a link between six food dyes – the ‘Southampton Six’ – and hyperactivity in children.

While EFSA concluded that the results could not be used as a basis for altering the acceptable daily intakes of the colours in question, the European Parliament baffled many observers by insisting that products featuring the colours should nevertheless include warning labels noting that they “may have an effect on activity and attention in children”.

Source: NY Times, FoodNavigator-USA

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