Three consumer organisations have accused the UK regulator of having "misled" the public and of being in the pocket of manufacturers over its approach to a major study on food additives.
The accusation by three major organisations could damage the credibility of the regulator, further eroding public trust in the safety of processed foods.
In a joint letter to Deirdre Hutton, chair of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Soil Association, the Hyperactive Children's Support Group, and Sustain alleged that the regulator had "misled the public" by failing to explain clearly that all children can be affected by artificial food colourings.
"We believe that the FSA is letting down parents and children by failing to take a clear approach based on these scientific findings," the letter stated.
FSA spokespersons were not available for comment on the allegations this morning.
The letter, published yesterday, said the organizations were "appalled" at the FSA response, and highlighted what they said were differences between the conclusions reached by the researchers and the regulator.
In the FSA-commissioned study, researcher Jim Stephenson claimed his investigation established "clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and benzoate preservatives can adversely influence the behaviour of children".
The organisations also noted that Stephenson stated that "We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and benzoate preservatives can adversely influence the behaviour of children."
On the basis of the study the FSA revised its previous advice on additives by stating: "Parents of children showing signs of hyperactivity are being advised that cutting certain artificial colours from their diets might have some beneficial effects."
Stephenson and his team studied the additive colours Sunset yellow (E110), Quinoline yellow (E104), Carmoisine (E122), Allura red (E129), Tartrazine (E102) Ponceau 4R (E124), and Sodium benzonate (E211).
The three consumer organizations noted that the FSA had "spent considerable time" with manufacturers on the research findings in advance of its publication. Industry organizations such as the Food and Drink Federation released statements to the press on the findings at the same time as the study was made public.
The letter accuses the regulator of accepting the industry's position on the issue and called for Hutton to reveal whether or not independent organisations representing the interests of the public, parents or children were consulted.
"Part of the reason for the FSA being set up in the first place was to put an end to such pro-industry bias, and for you to be the independent champion of the public interest," the three organizations stated. "We are forced to conclude that when it comes to food additives that you are not a food standards agency but a double standards agency."
The organisations have called for a meeting with Hutton to discuss the issues.