The unnecessary use of colourings, flavourings and artificial sweeteners in foods, drinks and medicines, particularly for children and other vulnerable groups is given little scrutiny.
Foods with added flavourings and sweeteners are often nutrient poor but can encourage children to have taste preferences for sweet and highly flavoured foods. The composition, quality and safety of our foods, drinks and medicines impact on the health and well-being of the entire population.
Flavourings are mainly used as cosmetic additives in foods, drinks, medicines and vitamins to provide taste and aroma sensations that the basic ingredients are not able to provide on their own. The use of flavourings in processed foods and drinks is common as the only processed products they are excluded from the addition of flavourings by law are infant formulae.
In early 2013, new Europe-wide regulations came into force which should ensure that all flavourings used in foods, drinks and medicines sold in the UK have been scientifically assessed as safe, and have labels that give consumers some information about the flavourings they contain.
Stricter monitoring systems should also be in place in the UK to ensure companies follow the new regulations. Whether consumers will be adequately protected by these new rules and how well the Governments in the UK will monitor the food supply chain, particularly of imported foods from outside the EU, is however not clear.
Flavourings is the biggest sector in the global food and additives ingredients market, yet the products themselves do not play a direct nutritional role in foods or drinks.
Artificial colourings used in foods, drinks and medicines offer no nutritional or safety benefits. They are used solely as cosmetic additives to boost the consumer appeal of products, for example, by adding brightness lost in processing or storage, mimicking the colour profile of healthier ingredients such as fruits and vegetables, or overcoming colour variations that occur in natural products. The use of artificial colourings in processed foods, drinks, medicines and vitamins is common as the only products they are excluded from by law are infant formulae. Artificial additives in food can mask poor quality ingredients and persuade consumers that highly processed foods are equivalent to home prepared versions.
Are artificial colours harmful to children?
Research in 2007 (https://www.food.gov.uk/safety-hygiene/food-additives) linked six artificial food colourings to hyperactivity in some children and in the UK many manufacturers have voluntarily removed these colourings from foods and drinks. Most of the major supermarkets' own-brand foods and drinks no longer contain these colourings, nor do the big confectionery brands.
The artificial colourings linked to behavioural problems in some children are: