Trade group urges ban for chemical additives – Anger over burden on parents to check labels

Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent – Guardian

The government will this week come under fresh pressure to protect children by moving towards an outright ban on potentially “hazardous” chemical additives in food, following the intervention of the influential organic food industry.

A powerful coalition of companies – whose members include the supermarket Waitrose, baby food manufacturer Organix, chocolate maker Green and Black’s, and Britain’s biggest organic brand, Yeo Valley – has accused the government’s Food Standards Agency of failing to consult it over new guidance for parents on the side-effects of E-numbers, and of ducking the opportunity for tighter regulation.

In a strongly-worded letter sent to Dame Deirdre Hutton, chairwoman of the FSA, at the weekend, the Organic Trade Group said it was unacceptable that the FSA was not making full information available to parents about crucial new research, adding that its new advice was flawed.

Two weeks ago the FSA published research by the University of Southampton which for the first time conclusively confirmed a link between specified additives and hyperactive behaviour.

The FSA took the significant step of issuing revised guidance to consumers, recommending that they avoid products containing certain E-numbers if their children were showing signs of hyperactivity or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But the move confounded health campaigners, who said the government had missed a chance to ban the additives, instead of placing a burden on parents.

Parents are being advised to check for additives by scrutinising labels, yet many sweets and cakes are sold loose without labels, as is ice cream.

The intervention of the Organic Trade Group is significant. Its management committee is run by the owners and managers of businesses with an organic turnover of more than £200m (excluding Waitrose) – more than 10% of the total £2bn-plus organic sales in Britain.

Organic food, as defined by the EU and Soil Association Standards, has always prohibited the use of all the additives that were identified in the report as having a “significantly adverse effect” on children, and also of many other additives.

In the letter sent to Dame Deirdre, Dame Elizabeth Vann, chairwoman of the OTG and founder of Organix, said: “We are disappointed that the FSA did not feel that the organic sector of the food industry was worthy of being consulted on the above research before its response was published. More than half of all shoppers now buy organic foods, parents in particular.”

The row will continue this week. The FSA has agreed that the new consumer advice and the next steps will be discussed at an open board meeting on Thursday.
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