Products containing six controversial food colourings will have to carry on-pack health warnings if marketed in the EU, the European Parliament has decided.
MEPs voted to adopt a requirement that foods containing the azo-dyes E110, E104, E122, E129, E102 and E124 must be labelled not only with the relevant 'E' number but also with the words "May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."
The measure, to be implemented under updated and simplified EU rules for authorising food additives, flavourings and enzymes, has been brought in after a UK government-funded study conducted by Southampton University, and published in the Lancet, concluded the additives were associated with hyperactivity in children.
The European Food Safety Authority evaluated the research but decided there was not currently enough evidence to ban the colourings outright.
The adverse publicity generated by the issue has led many companies to eliminate them from food and drink anyway. Campaigners, however, would still like the additives banned.
Anna Glayzer, co-ordinator of Action on Additives, a campaign run by UK-based pressure group The Food Commission, said: "This is in one sense a gain for the consumer, in that it should deter manufacturers from using these ingredients. Our concern is that this will be just one more thing parents are expected to look out for.
"Even if you do have time to check every label while you shop, you can't vet everything your child eats outside the home, and if you are eating out you don't even get to see labels. If we have enough evidence to issue a warning, why not take the burden off the parent and simply ban these colours? They serve no useful purpose in our food."
The European Parliament also voted in stricter conditions governing the use of the term "natural" in association with flavourings. It was decided such ingredients could be described as natural if their origin was at least 95% natural.
MEPs also agreed to introduce harmonised EU rules for the evaluation, approval and control of enzymes used in food. Under the new rules enzymes will be authorised only if they "do not mislead the consumer" in relation to the "freshness, nature and quality of ingredients and the naturalness and nutritional quality of the product."
Avril Doyle MEP, who drafted a report on enzymes, said: "It is the first time that we have EU legislation on enzymes. Until now only three member states — the UK, France and Denmark — have their own risk assessment for enzymes. The new harmonised rules will increase food safety and give more choice to consumers."