Campaigners in the UK have begun a further assault on "artificial additives" and their potential effects on child health, writes Lyndsey Greig at Frost & Sullivan
According to Greig, the British Dietetic Association is blaming the high consumption of snacks such as crisps for high levels of obesity among British children, also linking the excess sugar and caffeine they contain to hyperactivity and bad behaviour.
Other campaigners, however, are pointing the finger at "E-numbered colours, sweeteners and preservatives", with widely varying suggestions that between 1 in 1000 and 1 in 7 children could be affected.
The biggest problem with such broad statements, writes Greig, is that they make little distinction between different additives, branding all E-numbers as potentially harmful. This is a throwback to the massive anti-additive push in the 1980's, following the release of Maurice Hanssens book, "E is for Additives", and does not necessarily rely on any scientific evidence.
For Greig, the food additives industry still appears to be failing to make any serious attempt at explaining their position to the public. How many consumers, for example, understand the levels of scientific evaluation that must be carried out before a product is given an E-number? And conversely, how many believe that E-numbers are awarded only to help control consumption of toxic compounds?
Possibly in order to stall the latest round of accusations and confusing claims, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK has announced plans to launch a national study, investigating whether a link can be proved between certain additives and hyperactivity in three to five year olds. The FSA will invite bids from scientists around the country with the aim of isolating the reaction to individual additives under controlled scientific conditions. Currently, although anecdotal evidence exists, there is no way to tell whether the effects are due to sugar content or additives, for example.
As has been seen before, the charges are mainly levelled at 'synthetic' colours and preservatives - although, of course, EU legislation makes no distinction between 'synthetic' and 'natural'. The main offenders include tartrazine (E102), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124) and sodium benzoate (E211).
But consumers looking to avoid potentially harmful ingredients are more likely simply to reject as many E-numbers as possible, impacting a far greater range of products.
Greig continues that with the growing demand for natural products and ingredients, the food additive industry cannot afford to simply ignore consumer opinion. Food manufacturers will respond to their customers wishes by excluding E-numbers where they can, and additive producers risk watching their market shrink if they cannot provide a coherent solution.