Blog: Dean BestAre additives the "secret shame" of US food?

Dean Best | 9 June 2008

After months of debate in Europe, the battle over additives has resurfaced on another front – the US.

Allegations of links between artificial food colourings and hyperactivity in children intensified across the Atlantic last week after high-profile consumer watchdog The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) called for a ban on eight synthetic dyes.

The CSPI, renowned for being robust in its dealings with the US food industry, said the use of the dyes was the “secret shame” of manufacturers and called on the US Food and Drug Administration to outlaw the colourings.

Intriguingly, at the heart of the CSPI’s case were studies, including the controversial Southampton University study in the UK, that claim the use of certain additives worsens behaviour in children.

The Southampton study has proved a focus for much of the European disputes over additives and hyperactivity. The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), which sponsored the report, has used it to call for an EU-wide ban on certain colourings.

However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU’s food watchdog, has cast doubt on the study’s findings, saying the report provides “limited evidence” of any link with behavioural problems.

Perhaps predictably, US food manufacturers were quick to use these reservations to dismiss the CSPI’s case and to back the use of the dyes.

Nevertheless, the CSPI is unlikely to give up without a fight and will no doubt seek to keep the issue in the public domain.

Here in the UK, consumer pressure has prompted food manufacturers to remove a raft of artificial colourings and additives from their products on a voluntary basis. Pressure groups would say much more needs to be done but, should there be a similar push from US consumers, food manufacturers across the Atlantic are sure to face concerted calls for change.


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