EU wary on artificial food colors, no ban seen yet

BRUSSELS Tue Apr 22, 2008 9:31am EDT

Miniature cakes are displayed at Alimentaria trade show in Barcelona in this March 13, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Miniature cakes are displayed at Alimentaria trade show in Barcelona in this March 13, 2008 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Albert Gea

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is unlikely anytime soon to ban six artificial food colorings that some scientists believe may influence children's behavior, officials said on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, national experts from the EU's 27 member states discussed the safety of the additives, following British research that concluded there was a link between the colorings, and one preservative, and hyperactivity in children.

So far, the European Commission -- the EU executive, which proposes and administers legislation on behalf of EU countries -- has opted not to push for a Europe-wide ban, contrary to the wishes of several influential consumer and health groups.

Officially, all the Commission says is that it will "assess the outcome of the discussion to see whether further action needs to be taken." But privately, Commission officials say there is little chance of action for several months, if at all.

In 2007, researchers from Britain's Southampton University stirred public opinion with a study that suggested use of the additives might cause child hyperactivity, based on tests of around 300 children.

The additives analyzed were tartrazine (E102), quinoline yellow (E104), sunset yellow (E110), ponceau (E124), allura red (E129), carmoisine (E122) and sodium benzoate (E211).

Britain's Food Standards Agency, a government watchdog, has called for a voluntary ban of the colorings, meaning hundreds of food and drink products -- sweets, cakes, fizzy drinks and ethnic food seasonings -- may start to disappear from shop shelves. That view, though, has yet to become government policy.

But the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), based in the Italian city of Parma, was unconvinced by the Southampton study, and concluded that its findings could not be used to change the acceptable daily intakes of the food colorings.

Now, EFSA is carrying out some more analysis on combinations of the colorings and, in the meantime, there seems to be little appetite from the Commission or EU governments to proceed towards a ban, officials and diplomats say.

"I suspect they (the Commission) are some way away from a decision," one EU diplomat said. "As risk managers, they probably feel quite uncomfortable ... but they just don't have the evidence base to suggest that these are definitely unsafe.

"It's a long game, and there are some assessments being undertaken by EFSA anyway. I can't see the Commission acting on this -- very few member states support taking immediate action so it's definitely a slow burner," he said.

(Editing by Peter Blackburn)

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