The Ongoing Food Coloring Controversy in the UK

Monday, May 12, 2008 by: Al G Smith
Tags: food colors, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) The newspaper and TV reporters in the U.K. were going 'red-in-the-face' with excited denunciations of the negative health impact of certain food colorings classified using the European E-number system recently. The U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA) in what was touted as 'leading the way' within the European Union, has suggested that British food manufacturers should voluntarily cease to use certain colors in their product formulations by the end of 2008. Apparently most other European countries*
have so far proven too 'yellow' to suggest the same, and cause their home-based food industries any discomfort, but further discussions are due to take place soon.

The U.K. FSA has suggested that "...parents of children showing signs of hyperactivity are advised that cutting certain artificial colors from their diets might have some beneficial effects."

The synthetic colorings that have caused concern are:

* Allura red (E129) Used in: soft drinks

* Carmoisine (E122) A red azo dye used in: powdered soup, yoghurt, sauces,

* Ponceau 4R (E124) A red dye used in: powdered soup, tinned fruits, jelly,

* Quinoline yellow (E104) An azo dye used in: ice-creams; smoked fish

* Sunset yellow (E110) Used in: jams, yoghurt, soups, confectionery

* Tartrazine (E102) A yellow azo dye used in: fruit drinks, cakes, confectionery, yoghurt

The Chief Scientist of the Food Standards Agency, Andrew Wadge, commented that: "This advice is proportionate and based on the best available science. However, we need to remember that there are many factors associated with hyperactive behaviour in children other than diet. These are thought to include genetic factors, being born prematurely, or environment and upbringing."

Following these comments the airwaves and the printing presses of the U.K. were soon 'red-hot' with warnings that this almost unprecedented move might mean 'the end' for some so-called traditional British food-favorites, such as 'tinned mushy peas' and 'Battenburg cake'.

Tinned mushy peas, for example, have apparently been notoriously hard to reformulate to their familiar fluorescent green using natural colorings, and persist in displaying a less than appetizing grey-hue without their dose of synthetic dye. Whilst Battenburg, first developed in Victorian times for a young relative of Queen Victoria (so it is said), has also proven hard to color using natural resources to match the familiar vivid pink and vibrant yellow of its quadrants of jam-smeared, marzipan-wrapped sponge cake.

Naturally, a few typically eccentric traditionalists huffily raised a farcical hue-and-cry about these potential losses to the panoply of British gastronomic delights, but in truth, the likely victims of this latest pronouncement by the oft-derided FSA, could be hardly less noteworthy!

Now don't get me wrong, I still (admittedly ever more occasionally) "enjoy" a portion of properly prepared, muddy-green mushy peas as much as the next man. There is nothing more appropriate to accompany a batter-coated deep fried fillet of near-extinct Cod alongside the requisite heap of beef-dripping-sodden chips. A dollop of mushy peas atop a lard-oozing, warm pork pie is also 'de rigeur'! (British pork pie, that is, made in the time honored fashion using all the bits of the pig that can't be used elsewhere, of course. For it is nothing if not an exemplar of frugality and eco-friendliness, the good old pork-pie... or 'growler' as it is affectionately known in Yorkshire, probably due to the sound-effects it rapidly induces within the unwary stomach of the intrepid consumer.)

I have also been known to partake of a slice of luridly-colored Battenburg cake, in my time. A time way before such things as E-numbers were ever dreamed of, needless to say. So I am not speaking as one who actively dislikes these items, but the point should be made that the 'E-numbered' color-bar that affects these products:

1. Only concerns the 'tinned' version of mushy peas (hardly the true traditional form of the foodstuff)

2. Only relates to certain brands of Battenburg...

So it is not as if these products will never be seen again gracing the shelves of the typical English larder. Nor is it likely that they will merely pass into the fables told by old-wives to their assembled throng of grandchildren as she regales them with amazing-tales of the 'fluorescent foods of her childhood'.

But I write this article to note some points hardly touched on by the U.K. press as they denounced or praised (according to their wont) the workings of the British food-bureaucracy that may finally see an end to the use of these dubious synthetic red and yellow dyes.

Firstly, once again, E-numbers seem to be a generally 'negative thing' to have in your food. In fact if you were to ask the average British consumer as they heave their typically E-number-laden trolley-full of weekly groceries from their favorite supermarket to their awaiting MPV about their opinion of E-numbers, most would probably suggest that they are 'bad' things that are added to food. Some may venture to guess that they are additives. A few may even mention colors and preservatives. But a slim minority would likely tell you that the E-numbering protocol introduced within the European Union over three decades ago, is actually a system for identifying 'safe' ingredients. Indeed being granted an E-number was the 'green light' for usage in many typical food product formulations.

But when Maurice Hansen first published his book "E for Additives" in 1984, information was
already emerging that implied that some of these supposedly 'safe' ingredients were suspected of causing health problems. By the early 1980's anecdotal evidence was legion with respect to the affects of certain synthetic additives (and especially colors such as Tartrazine) on the behavior of children. So the concept of E-numbers being a bad thing, seeped (with much misinformed media machination) into the general public consciousness. So E for 'Evil', seems to be a common misconception despite the fact that E-numbers are also allocated to many natural, useful, if not indeed absolutely necessary, ingredients used in our every day foods.

The second point it seems important to make, as if it were not obvious from earlier observation,
relates to the tardiness of the U.K. FSA's hardly earth-shattering denunciation of certain synthetic
food dyes. How in the world could it have taken some 25 years to get to the point of finally suggesting that food manufacturers might 'voluntarily' remove these suspicious ingredients from
their products?

In point of fact, how is it that so many of the U.K. food manufacturers who have continued to make millions of pounds/dollars of profit every year, and worse still the multi-billion pound profiteers who purvey their goods, have not chosen sooner to ensure we are rid of dubious synthetic dyes from our food, and moreover our children's food and sweets?

The fact that coal-tar derived azo dyes that have long had a questionable reputation, along with other laboratory manufactured, non-natural colorants and additives, have regularly been included in our foods, must simply be unethical if not criminal. It is already way beyond time that these unpleasant, unnatural, unhealthy, lurid colorants should have been banned for use in our foodstuffs.

But more than this, any company that has not already chosen to get rid of these colors (or cause their suppliers to do so by applying the necessary economic pressures) must be liable to be charged with unethical behavior inappropriate for organizations who sell products that have a direct
effect on the general health of the population, and particularly youngsters! Indeed the only possible reason for the continued use of these colors has simply been their cheapness and not because they were absolutely necessary, or irreplaceable.

I was going to close the article at this point in light of having made some terse observations about how tardy and tentative the U.K. and European system is for accepting good scientific data that certain commonly used substances are potentially bad for us and therefore should be rapidly required to be removed from food formulations. But this gave me cause to take a glance at the current 'Government position' promoted within the U.S., simply for interest and comparison purposes.
As it turns out, I was not that surprised to discover, the 'current' information provided by the U.S. Government website and referred to by the Food and Drug Administration in answer to the question: "Do color additives in food cause hyperactivity?" the answer given is as follows (quote):

"Although this theory was popularized in the 1970's, well-controlled studies conducted since then have produced no evidence that food color additives cause hyperactivity or learning disabilities in children. A Consensus Development Panel of the National Institutes of Health concluded in 1982 that there was no scientific evidence to support the claim that colorings or other food additives cause
hyperactivity. The panel said that elimination diets should not be used universally to treat childhood hyperactivity, since there is no scientific evidence to predict which children may benefit."

Now this may seem amusing in some respects, but it is surely actually shocking to note that this unbelievably inadequate (and now wholly outdated and inaccurate) 'response' is apparently derived from an FDA brochure entitled "Food Color Facts" published in 1993. This 15-year-old information is still available for reference from the main online U.S. Government information resource. Clearly the Food Industry profits are way too important to let anything like human health interfere with continued use of questionable but cheap food ingredients, in the U.S. as well as Europe.

* Note: Norway has already banned the use of Tartrazine. Austria and Germany had also apparently banned it for a period until a European directive required removal of the ban.

About the author

Al G Smith MSc BSc - Has been working and teaching in the food related sector for over 30 years and is currently a website publisher ( and Independent Representative for the World's first extensive range of Certified Organic skin care and cosmetics (

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