Children's campaigners today welcomed a recommendation by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to ban six artificial food colourings.
The board of the FSA said UK manufacturers should voluntarily remove the additives from their products by 2009 and also called on the EU to take action. The FSA wants the E numbers to be removed from food products because of an "accumulating body of evidence" that they are associated with child hyperactivity. At a meeting in London, the board agreed that the EU should phase out the colourings but said UK manufacturers should voluntarily remove them in the meantime.
The colourings involved are sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), tartrazine (E102) and ponceau 4R (E124).
UK ministers will now consider the recommendation but the final decision will be made at EU level.
The board's chairwoman, Dame Deirdre Hutton, concluded: "If one puts consumers first, which is our duty, we must recognise that these colours are not necessary and it would be sensible to have them removed from all foods."
In a study for the FSA, researchers at Southampton University looked at the effect of food colouring on behaviour. Professor Jim Stevenson, who carried out the research, said he believed the effect of the additives posed a threat to psychological health. More research is to be carried out on the preservative sodium benzoate used in many fizzy drinks.
In a paper to the board, officials said discussions with British companies suggested they would be able to introduce satisfactory alternative ingredients by the end of this year. However, they said some products where alternatives had been difficult to find, such as canned and mushy peas, Battenberg and angel cakes, Turkish delight and tinned strawberries, "might be lost to the market temporarily or even permanently". The paper said some consumers would be disappointed by changes in the colour of their food but many others would be content that action had been taken to protect them.
The Children's Food Campaign, which called on the FSA to ban additives linked to hyperactivity in children, welcomed the recommendation.