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6 September 2007 - The Telegraph - Parents warned about artificial food additives

Harry Wallop, Consumer Affairs Correspondent writes:

Parents were told by a Government watchdog that their children may be at risk from fizzy drinks and processed foods that contain artificial additives.

The warning follows an in-depth study by Southampton University that discovered the clearest link yet between certain artificial colourings and preservatives and the behaviour of children.

The research, led by Prof Jim Stevenson, found evidence of increased hyperactivity in children after they consumed a cocktail of artificial food colours and sodium benzoate, a preservative found in many lollies and soft drinks.

However, the Food Standards Agency, which commissioned the report, has come under fire from academics and campaigners for shying away from banning any of the suspect e-numbers.

Richard Watts, of the Children's Food Campaign, said: "Parents have said for some time that this is what is happening to their children, but it is disappointing that it has taken so long for an official body to recognise that.

"And we are also very disappointed that the FSA has not given stronger advice to parents."

In the study, published in the Lancet, children of three and eight were given drinks that contained a mixture of additives found in common beverages and foods, including Lucozade and Sprite, Hubba Bubba bubble gum and Tesco mushy peas.

The investigation, the largest of its kind, looked at all types of children - not simply those showing signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which is estimated to affect between 300,000 and 600,000 children in Britain.

Prof Stevenson said the children showed signs of not being able to concentrate and of rushing around more than when they were on an additive-free diet.

"We know that many other influences are at work," he said, "but this at least is one a child can avoid." The FSA, as a result of the research, has advised parents of children who show signs of hyperactivity "that eliminating the colours used in the Southampton study from their diet might have some beneficial effects".

But Dr Alex Richardson, an Oxford academic and author of They Are What You Feed Them, said: "They have not gone far enough. The point of the Southampton study was that it stretched to the general population, yet the FSA has restricted its advice to just some parents.

"It is a no-brainer for all parents to avoid these additives."

The FSA said it was up to the European authorities to legislate and defended its stance.

"This is a proportionate response", said Terrence Collis, a spokesman. "To ban all additives would scare many parents and let's be clear, these additives are not poisoning our children."

Mr Watts said: "To blame Europe is a red herring. There is a lot more the FSA could do, such as banning any foods with additives from advertising."

The additives tested by Southampton included E110, often called sunset yellow, E102, or tartrazine and E129, or allura red.

Julian Hunt, from the Food and Drink Federation, said: "It is important to reassure consumers that the Southampton study does not suggest there is a safety issue with the use of these additives."

Many food manufacturers are phasing out additives, most notably Nestlé, which scrapped the blue Smartie this year after deciding to stop using artificial colouring.