Campaign to rid food of artificial colours hits the road in Australia and New Zealand

The on-going debate about artificial colours which are commonly added to foods has been a controversial topic in the U.S. and Britain for a number of years with groups lobbying for the practice to be banned.

Food companies use such additives to make all sorts of foods appear more appealing, particularly to children, such as lollies, soft drinks, flavoured milks, fruit juices and desserts.

Many experts, parents and teachers have been convinced for sometime that such additives affect children in a negative manner resulting in hyperactivity which interferes with behaviour and learning.

Such hyperactive disorders have meant increasing numbers of children in the UK, the U.S. and Australia have been prescribed powerful drugs such as Ritalin to help then cope with both school and home life.

Now the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) are actively encouraging manufacturers to phase out or find alternatives to such additives and the European Union has legislation in the pipeline to provide more information on food which contains six specific food colours - E110-sunset yellow, E104-quinoline yellow, E122-carmoisine, E129-allura red, E102-tartrazine and E124-ponceau 4R, explaining they "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children".

The move has been prompted by research by scientists at Southampton University in the UK which was funded by the FSA and published in The Lancet last year.

The Southampton study involved 153 three-year-olds and 144 eight-year-olds living locally, who were selected from the general population to represent the full range of behaviour, from normal through to hyperactive, rather than for any previous behavioural problems or known sensitivities to particular foods.

The children were placed on a diet free from the additives used in the study and over a six-week period were given a drink each day which either contained one of two mixtures of food colours and benzoate preservative, or just fruit juice - all the drinks looked and tasted identical, and none of the participants, teachers, parents, the observer, or the children, knew which drink each child was taking at any one time.

The Southampton researchers found from reports from both teachers and parents and a computer-based test of attention, that when the children were given the drinks containing the test mixtures, in some cases their behaviour was significantly more hyperactive.

These six specific artificial colours are now the focus of a new campaign supported by over 100 influential health professionals, educators, food manufacturers and children support service providers in Australia and New Zealand.

The Food Intolerance Network (FIN) is calling on the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), to ban all six additives and has the support of a number of influential health professionals, educators, food manufacturers and children support service providers.

Professor of Psychology, Jim Stevenson, who led the original research, says there is now clear evidence that for a large group of children in the general population, mixtures of certain food colours and benzoate preservative can adversely influence their behaviour.

Food Standards Australia says the food colours are approved as safe around the world and describe the study as 'limited'.

Some experts too are critical and say the study showed that only some children in the study were affected and the affect, though measurable, was small and that the fear of food additives is exaggerated.

Professor Stevenson himself also warns that parents should not believe that simply taking these additives out of food will prevent all hyperactive disorders, as it is known that many other influences are at work, but he says this at least is one a child can avoid.

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