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Food commission identifies banned additives in paediatric medicines

A research survey performed by the UK's Food Commission has identified banned additives in 41 medications intended for paediatric use

A research survey performed by the UK's Food Commission has identified banned additives in 41 medications intended for paediatric use.

The additives included artificial colours, preservatives and sweeteners regularly banned from food and drink for children aged under three. The commission also discovered that many medicine contained a cocktail of banned additives, known to cause rashes, stomach upsets, diarrhoea and eye irritation. Some of these reactions can occur a few days after exposure.

The survey, published in The Food Magazine on 10 March, found azo dye colourings in five products and multiple artificial sweeteners and preservatives in the majority of products. The products containing azo dyes included Anbesol Teething Gel, Buttercup Iinfant Cough Syrup and Superdrug's Children's Chesty Cough Syrup.

Sweeteners were found in 37 products, while two of these, Morrisons Junior Paracetamol and Superdrug Junior Paracetamol Suspension which can be taken by babies over three months, contained a mixture of four sweeteners, some of which have a laxative effect. Just over half (23) of the medicines analysed in the study warned of possible side effects linked to consumption of specific food additives.

The commission researchers found benzoate preservatives, such as E210 and E219, in 31 products. Tyxilix Night Cough Syrup for children aged 1 and over, included both a benzoate and a sulphite preservative. However, a warning in small print was included in the packaging, which stated: "Sulphite may rarely cause hypersensitivity reactions and bronchospasms (contraction of the airways)."

Some medicines, however, did contain warnings that the additives they contained could have harmful side effects: "E123, E214, E216 & E218 may cause allergic reactions (possibly delayed)." The only medicine which did not contain additives was Superdrug's dry cough syrup for children older than one year.

No colours or sweeteners are permitted in foods and drinks for children under three and most preservatives are prohibited. In the UK, the regulation of medical products is the responsibility of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The Food Standards Agency confirmed to the commission that only additives strictly necessary from a technological point of view and recognised as being without risk to the health of young children are authorised in such foods.

Ian Tokelove, a spokesperson for The Food Magazine, said: "Whilst many children will be able to consume these products safely, there will be those who will suffer allergic reactions to these additives. It is time for medicine manufacturers to clean up their act and remove any unnecessary additives. We believe that colourings and artificial sweeteners can be replaced with natural alternatives and the use of preservatives should be rigorously questioned."

The MHRA defended the use of additives, saying that sweeteners and bright colourings helped children take medicine. It added that rules were less strict than on food and drink because medicines were not consumed every day.

In a Times report on March 10, Richard Watts, children's food and health campaigner at Sustain, said that the findings showed the need for strong scrutiny of the sector, adding that the survey suggested a potential loophole in the law.

To access all the medicines tested by the Food Commission survey click on the following link:

14th March 2007


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