Since we launched the new Action on Additives campaign in April 2013 we have been pleased to welcome lots of followers to twitter and to our newsletter. Here we provide an update of some the things we are currently working on.
Colourings in Children's Medicines
A number of colourings are associated with hyperactivity in children and young people:
- Tartrazine (E102)
- Quinoline Yellow (E104)
- Sunset Yellow (E110)
- Carmoisine (E122)
- Ponceau 4R (E124)
- Allura Red (E129)
- and the preservative Sodium Benzoate (E211)
The colourings have been subject to a request by the Food Standards Agency for voluntary withdrawal by food and drink manufacturers in the UK since 2008. In addition, under European Commission law regulation 1333/2008, food and drink products containing these colourings and sold in the UK must be labelled with the following information:
'(E number/ name of colouring) may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children'.
This law applies to packaged foods and drinks but does not apply to alcoholic drinks or medicines.
All of the six colourings mentioned above, and the preservative Sodium Benzoate are ingredients that are currently authorised for inclusion in medicines, and there is no distinction between formulations suitable for adults or for children.
Of the six potentially harmful artificial colourings,
- Tartrazine (E102)
- Sunset Yellow (E110)
- Carmoisine (E122)
- and Ponceau 4R (E124)
must always be declared on the label of oral medicines and must be accompanied by a warning in the leaflet that they "may cause allergic reactions". Sodium Benzoate (E211) is only listed on labels of medicines that are injected or applied topically. Quinoline Yellow (E104) and Allura Red (E129) do not have to be listed on the label for oral medicines and have no specific warnings associated with them.
Which medicines contain the six colourings or the preservative E211?
We have recently surveyed the market for children’s medicines, both prescription and over the counter and have found 37 children’s medicines that contain one or more of the six colourings and/or the preservative sodium benzoate.
Example medicines containing colourings:
- Calpol Sugar Free Infant Strawberry Sachets (for babies aged 2 months+)
- Cefalexin Oral Suspension (prescription medicine)
Ponceau 4R (E124)
- Anbesol Teething Gel
Sunset Yellow (E110) and Carmoisine (E122)
- Buttercup Infant Cough Syrup (for children aged 2+ years of age).
Example medicines containing the preservative E211;
- Benylin Apple Flavour Cough Syrup (for babies aged 3 months+)
- Calcough Infant Glycerol for Tickly Coughs (for babies aged 3 months+)
- Boots’ Cough Syrup Apple Flavour (for babies aged 3 months+)
We are currently writing a report summarising the results of our survey, and this will be available on our website with a full list of over the counter and prescription medicines which contain these colours or Sodium Benzoate. We will also be making recommendations to The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to ask them to take stronger action to discourage the use of artificial colourings and the preservative Sodium Benzoate (E211) in children’s medicines.
Helping families avoid artificial colourings and the preservative Sodium Benzoate in foods, drinks and medicines.
We are currently writing a simple, practical guide to outline the key products that still contain the artificial colourings and Sodium Benzoate. This will be available as a download on this website so we can update it when, as we hope, manufacturers remove these additives as requested by The Food Standards Agency.
Families can currently download a simple card to carry with them to remind them of the particular additives to avoid:
Are supermarkets labelling foods and drinks they sell correctly?
We have been auditing the big supermarkets as well as smaller chains and independent stores to see how they are managing the labelling of products that contain those additives that should be labelled by EU law as potentially harmful to children. We have found that most supermarket own brands are free of these colours which is great news, and the big supermarkets for the most part are ensuring imported foods which contain the colours are labelled correctly. We have however found products in almost all stores that are not labelled correctly and many smaller chains and independent shops stock a wide variety of foods and drinks which contain the colourings without the appropriate labelling.
What will we do next?
We will summarise the information we have collected and put it on our website. We will also write to all the supermarkets and ask them about their labelling policy and remind them of the need to clearly label all products, particularly those that are imported from outside the EU.
The UK confectionery market: Are colours still being used by UK manufacturers?
An audit of confectionery producers across the UK has shown that a number are still producing goods which contain the colourings that should be avoided, and that many of these produce confectionery for the holiday market (for example rock and rock novelties) and in Scotland and the North of England. We are compiling a database of all UK confectionery companies and will summarise the brands and products that do contain colourings.
We will be writing to all the manufacturers to ask them to consider removing these colourings from their products.
Unlabelled foods and eating out
There remains a significant problem for consumers to avoid artificial colourings when eating out or when buying foods that are unpackaged and without labels. We have a report on the website looking at the use of colourings in catered foods and will be extending this work to look at food sold on market stalls and on open stalls in shopping centres.
We will encourage those selling foods without labels to avoid products that contain colourings that should be removed and providing labelling for consumers where this is appropriate.
What would you like us to look at?
If you have any areas related to artificial colourings, flavourings or sweeteners in foods, drinks or medicines that you would like us to investigate, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be building campaign guides as we go along so that you can get involved in the work we do and in ensuring a safe food supply for all.
The Action on Additives campaign is managed by the small public health nutrition charity First Steps Nutrition Trust. We hope that those of you interested in safe food and drink for children will also be interested in some of the other work we do at First Steps Nutrition Trust and you can sign-up to our main newsletter for updates on the free resources we produce.
The aim of this new campaign is to highlight the use of artificial colourings, flavourings and sweeteners in foods, drinks and medicines in the UK and act as a critical friend to regulatory bodies to remind them, and food manufacturers and retailers, of the need to be compliant with EU regulations. In addition, we will encourage those that produce and sell food and drink to reflect upon the use of artificial additives in the foods and drinks they produce and sell and to be open and honest about why they are used, and provide consumers with clear, simple information on how to avoid excess amounts of artificial additives if they would like to do so.
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