Double Standards Agency?

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 The Soil Association, Sustain, and the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group have published a letter to the Food Standards Agency, rebranding them “The Double Standards Agency” because they failed to give clear guidance on artificial food colours  – even after strong evidence in The Lancet  last week.

To quote the letter:

We are appalled at the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) response to the research on the ill effects of food additives published on Thursday 6 September. In the words of Professor Jim Stephenson, who carried out the research, this establishes ‘clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and benzoate preservatives can adversely influence the behaviour of children’. We believe that the FSA is letting down parents and children by failing to take a clear approach based on these scientific findings.    …

…   apparently, you have accepted the industry’s position on this important issue.   …

This is exactly how the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) used to behave whenever food industry interests were being threatened by new scientific evidence. Part of the reason for the FSA being set up in the first place was to put an end to such pro-industry bias, and for you to be the independent champion of the public interest. We are forced to conclude that when it comes to food additives that you are not a food standards agency but a double standards agency.

The FSA claims to be a ‘science based’ body, but on this occasion we believe your report is misleading the public over the conclusions of this research. For example you say that eliminating certain additives from children’s diets ‘might’ have beneficial effects. Professor Stephenson states that ‘We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and benzoate preservatives can adversely influence the behaviour of children’.

…   You are giving advice only to parents of ‘children showing signs of hyperactivity or Attention Deficit Disorder ‘, yet Professor Stephenson says that additives can cause an adverse effect on children’s behaviour and cause ‘hyperactivity in children in the general population’.     …

…   Now that Professor Stephens’ new findings in the study you commissioned have been peer-reviewed and published in the Lancet, you are clearly in a position to come to firm conclusions on this issue. The evidence shows that many children could enjoy considerable benefits from improved food quality and reduced exposure to problematic industrial chemicals routinely used in their food.   …

Read the full letter here > Food Additives – letter to Dame Deirdre Hutton

The FSA web pages on food additives now have “updated” guidance saying things like “avoidance might have beneficial effects” but their Chief Scientist, Dr Andrew Wadge does not seem particularly concerned. Professor Ieuan Hughes, Chair of their Committee on Toxicity, said: “Whilst this research does not prove that the colours used in the study actually cause increased hyperactivity in children, it provides supporting evidence for a link.”

The FSA have had meetings with food industry representatives to discuss the implications of this latest research. They in turn reassured the FSA that there is “already a trend within industry towards finding alternatives to the colours used in the study.”

That’s alright then!

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