• Euro Commission proposes deep cuts to legal limits
  • AG Barr, GSK working to remove the colours
  • Consultation with industry opened
European Commission moves to cut use of colourings linked to hyperactivity

European Commission moves to cut use of colourings linked to hyperactivity

The European Commission has moved to force soft drinks and food firms to significantly reduce their use of artificial colourings that have been linked to hyperactivity in children.

Commission officials have proposed deep cuts to the maximum levels allowed for three colourings used in soft drinks and a range of foods sold in the EU. The colours, sunset yellow, quinoline yellow and ponceau4R, were linked to increased risk of hyperactivity in children in a UK-based study in 2007.

The move intensifies the pressure on companies to remove the colourings from product formulas and follows a review of the 2007 study by the European Food Safety Authority. In July, the Commission introduced EU-wide, mandatory warning labels on food and drink containing any one of six colourings named in the 2007 University of Southampton study.

AG Barr still uses sunset yellow and ponceau 4R in its flagship Irn-Bru soft drink, while GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) continues to use sunset yellow in its Lucozade Energy Original drink.       

Both companies told just-drinks today (20 October) that they were aware of the Commission plans to reduce maximum levels and were "engaging" in the process.

AG Barr said that it was committed to removing the colourings. "We have been working hard to achieve this for the past two years," said an AG Barr spokesperson. "We have completed this programme across the portfolio, with the exception of Irn-Bru where we are making good progress. However, it is taking longer because it is a unique product and a unique colour, and we'll only complete the process when we're 100% satisfied that the outcome is right for our consumers," he said.

GSK said that it has also been working to remove sunset yellow from Lucozade Energy Original. "Although the link has not been proven, we have been exploring alternatives," a company spokesperson said.

"In conjunction with our trade associations, we are engaging with the relevant policy makers to help ensure any proposals adopt a scientific, risk-assessed and proportionate approach to ensure a high level of consumer protection without compromising the range of choice available to those consumers," she added.

The Southampton study found that a link to hyperactivity was particularly strong when more than one of the six colours were used, and in conjunction with the additive sodium benzoate. Soft drinks associations have repeatedly said that there is not enough evidence for regulatory authorities to take action.

However, in the UK, the Food Standards Agency has introduced a voluntary ban on use of the six colourings, which also include allura red, carmoisine and tartrazine. "The Agency believes that many UK manufacturers will have already reformulated their products and will no longer be using the six colours," said the watchdog last week.

The European Commission has opened a consultation on its proposal to cut the legal limits for use of sunset yellow, quinoline yellow and ponceau4R. Its deadline is 29 October.

The proposed legal limits in non-alcoholic drinks are as follows: quinoline yellow (E104) to go from 100mg per litre to just 7mg per litre; ponceau4R (E124) is to drop from 50mg per litre to 6mg; sunset yellow (E110) is go from 50mg per litre to 9mg. For the proposed limits for all food and drink, click here.