House debates

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


Food Colourings and Additives

7:35 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was recently talking to a very good friend of mine, Lisa McDermott, and she raised the issue of artificial colourings in foods and of the preservative E211, which is sodium benzoate, and the impact that they have on children. One of my children tended to react very badly to additives when they were young and I know that is very common within the community. This issue relates to the use of artificial colours and the E211 preservative and their use in our food and drink and over-the-counter medicines. These additives can be found in so many foods in our supermarkets and corner stores. They are in juices, children's medicines, flavoured milks, sweet treats and other everyday food. The problem with these additives is that they can have a major impact on some children in terms of their hyperactivity.

Lisa told me about the impact that they have on her son. She told me how his eyes glaze over and change when he accidentally has some of these artificial colourings or additives. They affect behaviour, concentration and attention, and even her son's teacher mentioned that she could notice when he had actually had food that one of these artificial colourings or E211 in it.

A study was done into this issue by Southampton University in the UK. That was done during 2007. The study showed there was a definite link between the use of artificial colourings and E211 and the onset of hyperactivity in some children. The study created significant interest in many countries around the world, including Australia. In the UK and Europe it also led to some major changes in the way food is produced and labelled. In Australia we have not instigated any change. I really believe that we should look at this matter very seriously.

Some people in authority have said that the Southampton University study was not conclusive and therefore no change is warranted. All you need to do is talk to a parent who has a child that reacts to these additives. Parents see their children turned into very, very different people. They become hyperactive, they lose their concentration and in some cases all sense of reason, and they become very difficult to manage. My friend told me how her son actually had a drink at the supermarket and she was unaware that this drink had the additives in it. Once it hit his system his whole personality changed. She had to put off her shopping expedition and return home. She also said that once the food additives were out of his system then he collapses in a heap and is tired and exhausted and very listless.

Sadly, this ends up affecting the whole family. Everyone has to learn how to handle a child who has these behavioural changes. If the food is not being properly labelled you cannot implement a very strict regime. A number of products marketed that are directed towards children to catch their attention have some of these additives in them: drinks such as Spiderman and Dora—a number of drinks that really capture the imagination of children. I am not suggesting that children should actually have sweet drinks, lollies or fizzy drinks, but they go to parties and they are in environments where they pick up a drink, pick up a lolly. If they cannot enjoy what their friends enjoy they feel different and it is not very good for them.

The more people I talk to about this issue, the more I hear about children reacting to these food colourings and how it impacts on hyperactivity. It is something that we should take very seriously and investigate. There is a range of information out there. We need to look at that information. There are blogs and there are a number of organisations—parents groups—that are working to try to raise awareness of this issue. This is a very important issue and one that needs to be investigated.