Dáil Éireann - Volume 638 - 27 September, 2007

Written Answers. - Food Safety.

Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Health and Children her intentions in relation to the recent report issued in the UK regarding the adverse effects of certain E numbered food additives on children’s behaviour; her views on the banning of such; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21258/07]

  Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: There has been a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence in the past on the effects of certain food additives on children’s behaviour but the UK research is the first carefully controlled scientific study that has demonstrated these effects.

In light of this research on the effects of combinations of certain artificial colours and the preservative sodium benzoate on children’s behaviour, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland [902] (FSAI) considered it important to inform parents of the findings. The FSAI has advised that parents of children who display symptoms of hyperactivity or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) should consider limiting their children’s consumption of foods containing these additives. The FSAI also recommends that parents read food labels when buying products so that they can identify if they contain these additives and thus, they can make an informed purchasing decision. A list of the additives studied in the research is available on the FSAI website.

The FSAI has also written to Food and Drink Industry Ireland and to the major retailers in Ireland recommending they continue to build upon ongoing work to remove the additives in question from their products.

The European Commission has asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to review the data from the study as a matter of urgency. Once the results of the EFSA evaluation are available (expected by the end of 2007) Member States and the Commission will agree what action is necessary to protect consumers on a Community-wide basis.

Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the dangers inherent in the use of hydrogenated vegetable oils in the manufacture of foods such as biscuits, cakes, and so on; and her intentions in relation to this urgent matter. [21262/07]

  Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: Hydrogenated vegetable oil is currently used in a range of food products on the market. If “partially hydrogenated” oil, or “hydrogenated” oil is mentioned in the list of ingredients, this indicates the use of unsaturated vegetable oils (or occasionally fish oils) high in polyunsaturated fatty acids which have been subjected to industrial hydrogenation and deodorisation. This industrial process may lead to the presence of trans fatty acids which are of concern in respect of consumers who are trying to follow a healthy diet which is protective against cardiovascular disease.

Trans fatty acids (also referred to as “trans fats”) are often used as a substitute for saturated fats: consequently, foods labelled ’low in saturated fats’ may be high in trans fats. This is a matter of concern, as it may potentially lead to consumers who are trying to follow a healthy diet and protect against cardiovascular disease being misled.

Under current EU legislation, the concentration of trans fatty acids does not have to be specified. Consumers may not therefore be aware of the levels of trans fats that they are consuming or the levels contained within foods, for easy comparison. However, a fundamental review of [903] European labelling legislation is currently underway. As part of the Irish submission in respect of this review, it was submitted that in order to enable consumers to make informed choices, information on both saturated fat and trans unsaturated fat, in addition to total fat, should be provided. This is being vigorously pursued in current discussions on this issue. It is hoped that if manufacturers are required to declare trans fats on nutrition labels, they may be encouraged to reformulate those products which are high in this type of fat.