The UK's Food Standards Agency has called for a voluntary ban on artificial colourings identified as harmful by recent research.

At the agency's open board meeting held earlier today (10 April) the FSA examined the link between food additives and hyperactivity.

Researchers at the University of Southampton, led by Professor Jim Stevenson, recently published the results of a study concluding that artificial food colours and additives exacerbate hyperactive behaviour in children.

Based on this evidence, the FSA has called for a voluntary ban of artificial colourings in the UK. The FSA has said it will push for the voluntary removal of these ingredients by manufacturers to be in effect by 2009.

"If one puts consumers first, then the evidence suggests it would be sensible for these colours to be taken out of the food that children eat, and by definition, out of all foods as you cannot separate the food that adults and children eat," concluded FSA chair Dame Deirdre Hutton.

Going one step further, the food watchdog called on the European Food Standards Agency to adopt a similar ban.

However, in March of this year the EFSA concluded that the study gave no basis for changing acceptable daily intakes (ADI) of food additives, due to a number of inconsistencies in the research and the inability to identify any additives in particular as none of them were tested in isolation.

The Food and Drink Federation, which represents the UK food industry, told just-food that it believes the FSA's actions would place an unnecessary and unfair burden on UK manufacturers.

"The FSA only has jurisdiction in the UK. It can't impose a ban on imported food. If a UK ban were imposed we would not have a level playing field. UK producers would face higher controls than food coming in from elsewhere," a spokesperson for the industry body commented.

Moreover, the FSA added, the majority of UK manufacturers have already phased-out colourings that have been linked to hyperactivity.

"The UK industry has for a number of years been responding to consumers' demands for fewer artificial additives in food and drinks. Our members have been reducing the use of the colours highlighted in the Southampton study. The overwhelming majority of products don't contain these particular colours," Julian Hunt, FDF director of communications said in a statement.

"However, there are a handful of popular food and drinks where reformulation has not been possible for technical reasons and we are concerned these will have to be taken off shop shelves," he added.

The colourings investigated in the Southampton study were sunset yellow (E110), tartrazine (E102), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124), quinoline yellow (E104) and allura red (E129).