Shoppers confused about food labels that read 'like chemistry experiment'

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The Independent Online

Food is being sold with additives made from chalk, dried insects and wood chip, a Consumers' Association report said yesterday. Some food labels read "more like a chemistry experiment" than something one would want to eat, the organisation said.

Food is being sold with additives made from chalk, dried insects and wood chip, a Consumers' Association report said yesterday. Some food labels read "more like a chemistry experiment" than something one would want to eat, the organisation said.

Researchers discovered that some foods contained no trace of "real" food - Panda Pops blue raspberry drink was found to have no fruit. Golden Wonder crispy bacon flavour Wheat Crunchies had flavourings and colour but no bacon. Rowntrees sugar-free strawberry-flavoured jelly had no strawberries.

The Consumers' Association called for a clearer labelling system for additives to make it easier to understand and compare the contents of different products.

In a Which? magazine survey last September and October, 1,929 shoppers were shown a list of ingredients on a soft drink and asked to identify all the additives. Fewer than a third managed to spot additives when they were named in full, rather than as an E number. The report said that listing additives sometimes by their full names and sometimes by their E numbers, occasionally in the same list, confused consumers.

Even though European law states that additives can only be used if there is a technological need for their use, the magazine said that they were often used for cosmetic reasons. Additives are used for colour, flavour and texture or to preserve food. They must be approved by an expert panel which sets safe intake levels. But despite the safety checks, there are claims that some additives can cause health problems. Some studies have shown a link between hyperactivity in children and artificial flavourings and colourings, though findings are inconclusive and other research has found little or no link.

Amanda Bristow, who led the investigation, said that while additives were essential in providing safe, convenient food all year round, E numbers were sometimes added to food to make it more colourful.

"Additives are sometimes used to replace 'real' ingredients or to make unhealthy food seem more authentic and appealing," she said.

"The need for additives isn't always clear ... There are still health concerns about certain additives, and our survey shows it's all too easy to consume them unwittingly."

The recent adulteration of chilli powder from India with a red dye - Sudan I - which is not permitted as a food colouring in Europe, had posed a serious problem, the report said. Some bottles of red wine were recently recalled because they were found to contain up to 17 times the safe level of sulphur dioxide (E220) - enough to trigger an asthma attack, the report said.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

E904: SHELLAC

Origin: Comes from a secretion of an Indian insect

Use: A glazing agent in sweets and biscuits, including Cadbury's Crunchie Nuggets and Starburst Joosters jelly beans

E401-401: ALGINATES

Origin: Seaweed extract

Use: Thickeners in foods such as ice cream, fruit pies, sauces and spreads

E445: GLYCEROL ESTERS OF WOOD ROSINS

Origin: Vegetable matter such as pine wood chips

Use: Stabilisers in drinks including Fanta Fruit and Lilt Light Fruit Crush

E170: CALCIUM CARBONATE

Origin: Chalk

Use: White colouring and anti-caking agent in bread

E120: COCHINEAL

Origin: Pigment extracted from dried coccid insects

Use: Colour for foods such as meat products, jellies and sweets

E551: SILICON DIOXIDE/ SILICA

Origin: Extracted from sand

Use: Stops powders sticking together in drinks and sauce mixes

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