EFSA to consider new UK study on behavioural changes associated with certain food colours

EFSA has been informed by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) about findings of researchers from Southampton University which suggest that a mixture of certain food colours and the preservative sodium benzoate could be linked to an adverse effect on the behaviour of hyperactive children. These colours are already under consideration by EFSA as part of a re-evaluation of the safety of all food colours.


EFSA’s AFC Panel[1] will consider these new findings taking into account other available scientific evidence on colours and behavioural effects. At its next plenary meeting end September the AFC Panel will assess these findings and consider whether any further work is required. The UK FSA is sending EFSA additional study details in order to facilitate this work.

The Southampton study was commissioned by the FSA. The UK’s independent scientific expert advisers on this issue, the Committee on toxicity of chemicals in food, consumer products and the environment (COT), has evaluated the study and provided a comprehensive statement. The new UK findings will be considered and taken into account by EFSA’s scientific experts when assessing the individual colours.

The AFC Panel is currently undertaking a re-evaluation on the safety of all food colours, authorised in the European Union (EU), on a case-by-case basis. The colours used in the Southampton study are included in EFSA’s re-evaluation mandate; for instance Allura Red will most likely be one of the next opinions to be adopted and published later this year.

The study conducted by the researchers from Southampton University is published in The Lancet http://www.thelancet.com/.

For more information please also visit the FSA webpage at www.food.gov.uk 

Notes to editors

About the study: The study has provided supporting evidence suggesting that certain mixtures of food colours together with the preservative sodium benzoate are associated with an increase in hyperactivity in children. If causal, the results could be of relevance for children with a tendency to hyperactivity.

However, according to the COT, the research has not indicated any possible biological mechanism for the observations made, which might have provided evidence of causality or of the possible effects of individual additives or of other mixtures of additives. The timing and duration of any possible effects would need to be addressed by further research (for more details please see also the COT Statement).

Two mixes of artificial colours were used in the study conducted by Southampton University. Mix A consisted of Sunset Yellow (E110), Tartrazine (E102), Carmoisine (E122), Ponceau 4R (E124, Sodium Benzoate (E211). Mix B consisted of Sunset Yellow (E110), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Carmoisine (E122), Allura Red (E129), Sodium Benzoate (E211). All are approved food additives, authorised for use in a variety of products notably confectionary, fine bakery wares, and soft drinks [2].

In July EFSA has published its first opinion [3] of a series of around 45 natural and artificial colours. The work on colours is expected to be completed by the end of 2008. Based on EFSA’s scientific advice the European Commission and national authorities of Member States will decide if measures have to be taken in order to protect consumer’s health.

[1] EFSA’s AFC Panel = EFSA’s Panel on additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food
[2] Directive 94/36/EC on colours for use in foodstuffs https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:31994L0036&from=en
[3] EFSA Opinion on the food colour Red 2G and related press release

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