Artificial colourings may make food look attractive but it can be as harmful for a child's development as the leaded petrol, according to a new study.
Previous studies have shown that the additives, found in a host of sweets and soft drinks can lead to behavioural problems in children, but researchers at Southampton University, suggest that seven colourings, including tartrazine and sunset yellow, could also affect children's intelligence by up to five IQ points.
Food Standards Agency, (FSA) would consider suggestions that manufacturers should voluntarily remove six of the E numbers from their products while further research is carried out on the seventh, sodium benzoate. They would be urged to use natural replacements.
Professor Jim Stevenson, lead researcher, had written to the FSA to take immediate action.
"The position in relation to AFCs [artificial food colours] is analogous to the state of knowledge about lead and IQ that was being evaluated in the early 1980s... Needleman [a researcher] found the difference in IQ between high and low lead groups was 5.5 IQ points... This is very close to the sizes obtained in our study of food additives," the Telegraph quoted Professor Stevenson, as saying.
However, a spokesman for the Food and Drink Federation said that food additives were properly tested before being allowed to reach the public.
"The use of food additives is strictly regulated under European law and they must be approved as safe by the appropriate European scientific committee before they can be used," he said.