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Processors Predictably Move to Quell Heath Fears over Chemical Food Additives

By Ahmed ElAmin, of Food Quality and Julian Hunt, Director of Communicati  Posted by Stephen Fox (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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Breaking News on Food Safety & Quality Control: Processors move to quell health fears over additives

By Ahmed ElAmin 18/09/2007- The biggest trend in the UK market in recent years has been for manufacturers and retailers to reduce the use of additives, as well as replacing additives used with non-artificial alternatives, says the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). The FDF made the statement in response to a comment, "Hooked on Es", published across Decision News Media sites on 10 September. Below is the full copy of the FDF's response, along with a reply by editor Ahmed ElAmin, who wrote the original comment.

From: Julian Hunt, Director of Communications, Food and Drink Federation Dear Ahmed,I was disappointed to see that your editorial on the FSA-sponsored study into food colourings followed the lead taken by the more sensational elements of the British media, rather than focusing on the facts ('Hooked on Es' - 10 September). So I hope you don't mind if I try to redress the balance.

For starters, I should remind your readers that the biggest trend in the UK market in recent years has been for manufacturers and retailers to reduce the use of additives in their products, as well as replacing additives used with non-artificial alternatives.

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Our industry prospers solely on its ability to meet consumer demands for products that look good, taste great and are safe. That's the one immutable law of the grocery sector. And our ongoing work to address consumer concerns about additives shows not only that we are a responsive industry, but we are responsible too. In your editorial, you claim that the colourings under scrutiny can be easily substituted in all food and drink products.

This is just not the case - as your readers will know, some manufacturers are overcoming all sorts of technical hurdles in their efforts to change product formulations. So the achievements to date by our members and their retail customers should be celebrated - not dismissed out of hand.

Turning to the events of last week, it was absolutely right for us to point out that the findings from the study needed to be treated carefully. But this should not be interpreted as industry being dismissive or defensive.

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The FSA's independent Committee on Toxicity itself said the results did not prove the colours caused increased hyperactivity, rather they provided supporting evidence for a link. In addition, COT said the available evidence did not identify whether this association was restricted to certain food additives or combinations of them.

Contrary to your analysis, the FSA was also unequivocal that any observed increases in hyperactive behaviour were more likely to be linked to one or more of the colours tested, not the preservative sodium benzoate.

Nevertheless, industry is not complacent; companies will, of course, be busily digesting the research, and the FSA's subsequent advice, all of which will feed into their ongoing reviews of product formulations. Rather worryingly, you claim these colours are banned in some parts of Europe.

This is not the case. The FSA confirms that all EU member states permit the use of these colours and so do countries in the European Economic Area, including Norway.

Judgement about the safety of these colours is something that must be addressed at a European level. That's why we welcome the fact that the FSA is referring the research to the European Food Safety Authority as part of its ongoing review of all food additives.

Until it makes a decision, however, they remain absolutely legal colours for companies to use in products if they so choose. In the meantime, you can rest assured that our members will continue to do what they do best: meeting the demands of consumers. And that does not mean pandering to the demands of tabloid headline writers.

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Ahmed ElAmin responds: The Food and Drink Federation makes a valid point -- that industry has gone a long way toward reducing the use of artificial colours and preservatives. However, it is a point that should have been made at the time the Food Standards Agency (FSA) released the study.

I believe that the industry's initial response, whether through representative organisations or by individual companies, did not serve to reassure consumers. It would have been in industry's best interests to get the message out fast about its efforts at reformulation. This observation was the point of my comment, and it was meant as advice to decision makers working in the industry, as this group is the target audience of our publications, not the public.

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