Stores urged to ban artificial additives to children's food

Retailers review policies as campaigners welcome Sainsbury's move

Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent
The Guardian, May 8, 2007

Pressure is growing on supermarkets and retailers to ban artificial colours and flavourings from food and drink consumed by children, with most leading retailers reviewing their policies in the face of mounting consumer concern.

Sainsbury's will next month become the first major supermarket chain to ban artificial colours and flavourings from its own-label soft drinks.

The chain says the ban - in force from June 1 - is the result of "overwhelming" demand from parents concerned about E number additives and artificial flavours and their possible links with hyperactivity and behaviour problems among children, as well as allergies and breathing problems.

Other supermarkets and retailers are likely to follow, amid growing public concern about the health risks of artificial ingredients. Britain's biggest supermarket, Tesco, and Marks & Spencer are both moving to phase them out where they are still being used.

In the biggest single move of its kind Sainsbury's ban will apply to its entire range of more than 120 own-brand drinks - soft and fizzy drinks, squash and cordials, as well as mixers for use with alcohol, such as tonic water.

Sainsbury's is replacing aspartame with sucralose, a low-calorie sweetener made from sugar. It is also removing the widely used artificial colouring sulphite ammonia caramel (E150d) from its cola drinks, replacing it with barley malt extract. Sainsbury's said the chemicals will generally be replaced by natural colours and fruit and vegetable extracts, while flavourings will be from named fruits and other natural sources.

Marks & Spencer said none of its soft drinks contain aspartame - it uses sucralose in diet soft drinks - or artificial flavouring, while all its soft drinks except colas contain natural colours. It is working to remove the one remaining artificial colour from its colas. It said it had banned more than half the additives permitted by the EU, particularly those associated with concerns about food intolerance and children's diets including monosodium glutamate (MSG), cyclamates and tartrazine. Its children's range of ready meals do not contain added preservatives, artificial colours, flavourings or sweeteners, and the permitted additives used in the range had been agreed with the Hyperactive Children's Support Group (HCSG).

Tesco said in a statement: "We have a couple of fruit-flavoured fizzy drinks which contain artificial additives that will be removed by the summer. We use natural, fruit-based sweeteners in all of our drinks that are labelled for children or are in our 'kids' range.

"We have had an 'additives hit-list' for more than 20 years and in particular target colours and additives highlighted by the HCSG ... we are conducting a review regarding 'nature identical' additives in our drinks."

The founder of the HCSG, Sally Bunday, said Sainsbury's move was "fantastic news ... This is an important public health issue which manufacturers can no longer brush under the carpet. We hope that this announcement from Sainsbury's will lead other soft drink manufacturers and supermarkets to follow suit."

The HCSG is putting together a research project scrutinising the policies of supermarkets on artificial colours and flavourings, which will be published later this month.

Lizzy Vann, of the Organix range of babyfoods, said: "We would like to see more supermarkets and manufacturers launching an outright ban on additives in children's food ... The fact is that small children are being subjected to all sorts of ingredients that we just don't know enough about - they are being unfairly experimented on and their body mass also means that ... they are absorbing relatively large quantities."

Posted on May 15, 2007 in Food Additives | Link

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