Welcome to the first Action on Additives newsletter. This re-launched campaign is now being 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.

What will the Action on Additives campaign do?

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. Within the EU there are strict codes of regulation to protect consumers from any known harm associated with additives used in foods, drinks and medicines and the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) provides expert consumer protection. Having clear regulation however is not enough on its own to protect consumers as there is also a need to monitor compliance with regulations and to constantly review new evidence.

Our aim is to act as a critical friend to regulatory bodies, and to remind them and food manufacturers and retailers of the need to be compliant with regulation. In addition it is not unreasonable to expect those that produce and sell food and drink to reflect upon the use of artificial additives in foods and drinks they produce and sell and to be open and honest about why they are used, and for consumers to have access to clear, simple information on how to avoid excess amounts of artificial additives if they would like to do so.

The Action on Additives campaign will focus on three key areas:



In 2007 research funded by the UK Food Standards Agency showed that the ingestion of some artificial colours in food and drink (as well as a preservative sodium benzoate) was linked to aggravated attention deficit disorders in some children in the general population.  You can find links to this research and more about the colourings here.

Following this research food manufacturers have been asked to voluntarily withdraw the colours E102, E104, E110, E122, E124 and E129 from foods and drinks. In addition there is an EU regulation which states that any product containing these colours 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'

How have food manufacturers and retailers responded?

The good news

The bad news

  • The major supermarkets and major manufacturers have mostly removed these colours from foods and drinks they produce and there are significantly fewer foods and drinks now available that contain these colourings compared to 2007/8
  • Many foods and drinks that do contain the colours are labelled appropriately according to regulations.
  • There remain a significant number of UK manufacturers who have not removed these colours from all the foods and drinks they produce.
  • There remain a significant number of foods and drinks available for sale in shops across the UK which are not labelled appropriately.
  • Consumers are still unable to tell if foods purchased outside the home without labels contain these colours and little is known about how the catering industry has responded to calls to remove these colours.
  • Many medicines contain these artificial colours, including many children’s medicines.

What will the Action on Additives campaign do next on colourings?

We will be contacting food manufacturers, food retailers and caterers in the UK to find out:
  • Their policy around the use and labelling of colours in foods and drinks
  • The timetable they have in place to remove colours where these still appear or to label foods and drinks they make or sell appropriately.

We will be reporting our findings in the newsletter and on the website and will be preparing a state of the market report on the use and labelling of colours in foods, drinks and medicines in the UK in the next few months.

We will also produce a simple parental guide to avoiding unnecessary colourings, flavourings and sweeteners in foods, drinks and medicines.



Last year First Steps Nutrition Trust produced a report 'A Question of Taste: A review of flavourings in foods and drinks in the UK' (2012) and this is available to download here.

This review considers how and where flavourings are currently used and the role they play in a highly technologised food industry. A number of recommendations are made around issues of safety, responsibility towards children's health, transparency and food quality to highlight some of the areas where more information and clarity are needed for consumers.

The report was compiled by a multi-disciplinary team of experts involved in food law, food toxicology and public health, and provides the first objective, comprehensive review of the flavourings industry in the UK.

What will the Action on Additives campaign do next on flavourings?

We will be monitoring the response in the UK to new EU recommendations on flavourings in foods. We will also promote the recommendations made in the report ‘A Question of Taste’ to the appropriate agencies and encourage greater transparency in the use of flavourings in foods marketed to children.

We will also produce a simple parental guide to avoiding unnecessary colourings, flavourings and sweeteners in foods, drinks and medicines.


This is a new area of work for Action on Additives and will consider the current use of sweeteners in foods and drinks in the UK, particularly their use in foods and drinks consumed by children.

The safety of sweeteners in foods and drinks remains under constant review. For example:
  • In early 2013 The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) launched a public consultation on its draft scientific opinion on the safety of the artificial sweetener aspartame. EFSA has undertaken an in-depth review of peer-reviewed scientific and other literature on aspartame and its breakdown products, including new human studies, and the results of this work and consultation should be available in May 2013.

What will the Action on Additives campaign do next on sweeteners?

  • We will write a consumer report to summarise the use of sweeteners in foods, drinks and medicines in the UK and to give a balanced review of evidence of the usefulness of artificial sweeteners in  weight management.

  • We will be reporting on the results of any consultations around the safety of sweeteners in the EU and any potential impact on the use of aspartame in the UK.

How can you help us?

Send us information

We will be setting up a message board over the next few weeks where you can post details of foods, drinks or medicines that may be relevant to our campaign.  Details will be sent out in the next newsletter.