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Colours and food additives reported as banned

(December 2012)

Sometimes colours and other food additives are reported as “banned” in some countries but permitted in Australia and New Zealand.

A lack of permission in a country is not the same thing as a ban. It may mean manufacturers have never sought permission to use the additive, usually because alternatives are approved.

Sometimes additives are not approved because of circumstances unique to a country (e.g. different dietary exposure).

Different countries also have their own food regulatory systems and legislation. This can mean an additive may have been banned many years ago, however scientific evidence since then has proven it is safe. For example, there is legislation in the US that prevents permission of additives if there is any evidence (in animal studies) that the additive is carcinogenic. Because of this legislation, some additives were banned in the 1970s – 1980s due to animal studies indicating the chemicals were carcinogenic. Subsequent studies by other agencies (e.g. the Joint Food and Agricultural Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have not supported these earlier conclusions. While there have been changes in science and new evidence, the US legislation remains in place.

All additives undergo a thorough safety assessment before being approved for use in Australia and New Zealand.

Some examples of additives that are commonly reported on in the media are listed below. You can also view our food additive permissions table.

Animal studies

From time to time there are media reports about additives causing cancer in animals. It’s important to note substances that cause cancer or illness is animals don’t always cause cancer in humans because these substances act in very different ways in people. A good example of this is chocolate, which can be deadly to dogs but doesn’t affect humans.

Some chemicals can cause adverse effects at high doses, as used in animal safety studies, but are innocuous at low doses. This may occur because the body is unable to detoxify the chemical above certain levels – a type of overload situation. Effects seen at such high levels may not be relevant to the much lower levels in food as consumed. Therefore when adverse effects are reported in animal studies this does not mean that the same effects will be caused when people eat the substance.

Examples of additives cited as “banned”

These additives are often cited as banned elsewhere but permitted in Australia and New Zealand.

Amaranth (INS 123)

The US terminated the provisional listing for the colour Amaranth for use in food in 1977.

Since that time EFSA and JECFA have both assessed more recent studies and have both concluded that Amaranth is not carcinogenic.

Read more about EFSA’s assessment of Amaranth (pdf 236 kb)

Vegetable carbon (carbon black), INS 153

This colour is not permitted in the US if it is produced by certain production processes. This decision was made because of the possible presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

However EFSA’s recent 2012 review of the safety of carbon black (vegetable carbon) came to a different conclusion due to the very large margins of exposure of dietary exposure to the colour. Margin of exposure values indicate the differences between levels that people may consume in their diet and the levels shown to induce cancer.

Read more about EFSA’s review

Cyclamate, INS 952

Cyclamate was banned as an intense sweeter in the US in 1970 due to a 1969 rat study implicating the additive as a rat bladder carcinogen. However other studies since this time could not replicate these results. Other US agencies (the Cancer Assessment Committee of the FDA and the National Academy of Sciences) later concluded it is not a carcinogen.

FSANZ assessed the safety of cyclamate and concluded that it is a safe food additive. FSANZ reduced the maximum permitted level for cyclamates in water-based flavoured drinks to ensure exposure to cyclamates for all consumers is safe.

FSANZ reviewed permission for cyclamate in 2007.

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), INS 320

BHA is authorised alone, or in combination with other antioxidants such as gallates, tertiary butylhydroquinone and butylated hydroxytoluene, for a wide range of different food categories in Europe.

BHA is also permitted for a variety of foods in the United States, as well as by many other food regulators around the world. It is also permitted in a variety of food categories in the Codex General Standard for Food Additives (GSFA).

Ammonium phosphates, INS 342

These food additives are generally recognised as safe (GRAS) in the US. They are not listed as permitted in the European food additive legislation. It is possible that no request for permission of the food additives has been sought.

Ammonium malate, INS 349

This food additive does not appear to have a permission in the US or Europe. Again it is possible that no request has been sought for its permission. It is permitted in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

Search for permitted additives

United States Code of Federal Regulations

US FDA list of colour approvals for use in food, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices

Food additive permissions in the European Union

EU food additives database – searchable tool providing up-to-date information on food additives permissions in the EU.

More information

Table of food additive permissions

Food colours

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