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British Study Shows Food Additives Harm All Children

There is a rapidly growing awareness in Britain that synthetic additives such as dyes can trigger behavior, learning and health problems.Food Coloring Bottles against a blank, white background

This surge of interest and awareness is being created by a new study from the University of Southampton (McCann, 2007). As a result, many

professionals are advising parents to avoid foods that contain synthetic dyes.

Children age 3 and 8 to 9 year-olds were given a group of food dyes in the amounts that an average child may be expected to ingest in a day. These dyes include three that are used in foods in the United States, and three that are banned here.

Dyes studied

These are used in food in the U S:


  • Red 40 (allura red)
  • Yellow 5 (tartrazine)
  • Yellow 6 (sunset yellow)

The following are banned from food in the US, but are permitted in drugs and cosmetics:

  • Red 4 (ponceau 4R)
  • Yellow 10 (quinoline)
  • Carmoisine – a red dye

The study is similar to one conducted in 2004, which showed that food additives triggered behavior problems, including hyperactivity, temper tantrums poor concentration, and various allergic reactions. These problems were shown to occur in children who were not considered to have ADD or ADHD symptoms. (Bateman, 2004)

British supermarkets clean up their food

Major supermarket chains in Great Britain have announced they are getting rid of synthetic dyes and flavorings in their store brand foods. Aspartame is also getting the ax.

ASDA refers to the elimination of the additives as their “no nasties guarantee.”

British food retailer ASDA is working to remove all synthetic dyes and artificial flavorings from their own brand name foods. Aspartame will also be eliminated, and they say they will get rid of both hydrogenated fats and monosodium glutamate (MSG). ASDA is owned by the US giant, Wal-Mart, but so far there have not been any reports of Wal-Mart taking similar steps.

Marks & Spencer, another major supermarket, will be taking similar action, and they have already removed MSG and tartrazine (known as yellow No. 5 in the United States) from their foods. Natural colorings and flavorings are being used in place of the synthetic versions. And the stores will be using sucralose (Splenda) in place of aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal). The Feingold Association welcomes the elimination of aspartame, but feels that the use of sucralose is not an ideal solution.

Marks & Spencer has already banned many of the synthetic additives, particularly in foods that are designed to appeal to children. Tesco and Sainsbury’s, two other large supermarket chains, are taking similar steps to improve the quality of their food by removing the most offensive additives.

Dyes are on their way out in Europe!

Rather than put warning labels on their food, manufacturers replaced most petroleum-base dyes with natural coloring.

As of July 20, 2010 most of the food and beverages sold in Europe were required to either eliminate six synthetic dyes or include warning labels stating “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Companies were required to be sure the warning is clearly visible on the packaging – no teeny type or printing of red words on a red background are allowed.


Products such as alcoholic beverages, consumed by adults, are not required to carry any warnings, so chemically-sensitive adults need to be alert for dyes. This is not easy; food additives in Europe are labeled with “E numbers” so instead of looking for Yellow No. 5, as it is listed in the US, a consumer will need to watch out for “El02.”

“EU Regulation 1333/2008” was adopted by the European Commission in July of 2008 after the publication of the government-funded Southampton study (showing that dyes cause harm for most children, not just those diagnosed with ADHD) and the consequent removal of dyes from foods in the United Kingdom.

The Commission is the executive body of the European Union, headquartered in Luxembourg. This regulation was passed despite lack of support by the European Food Safety Authority, counterpart of the US Food and Drug Administration; the agency wanted to wait until more research was conducted before taking any action.

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