Brazilian draft law limits food colourings to ‘smallest quantities’ possible

10 Oct 2020

A Brazilian lawmaker is pushing for manufacturers to use the smallest quantities possible of food colourings for health reasons.

The draft Law 3313/2020 was presented in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies by politician Dayane Pimentel of the Social Liberal Party and proposes an amendment to Article 24 of the Law-Decree Nº 986 to restrict food manufacturers’ use of food colourings.

Brazilian draft law limits food colourings to ‘smallest quantities’ possible

“The idea defended in this proposal is to maintain the competence of the federal health authority in defining what substances can be intentionally added to processed foods and within what limits this addition is acceptable, but […] as a general rule, that dyes will be added in the smallest quantities foreseen for the permitted range of use,” the draft law reads.

Larger quantities could be authorized “if there is evidence of its technological usefulness”. Manufacturers would be required to demonstrate the ingredients are necessary because they perform an additional function besides colouring.

According to Pimentel, colourants are additives that have no nutritional function in food and are added principally to improve the appearance of products, making them more attractive and eye-catching particularly to children and adolescents.

The Codex General Standard for Food Additives (GSFA), a single reference point for food additives and their use around the world, establishes maximum limits for food additives based on scientific data while in Brazil, the National Health Regulatory Agency (ANVISA) sets maximum limits. However, neither authority establishes minimum levels for food colours.

Pimentel’s draft bill proposes to change this approach, said David Pineda Ereño, managing director and consultant on strategy, policy, and regulation at ‎DPE International Consulting.

“When setting maximum limits of food additives, authorities evaluate whether there is a technological need for their use, that they must be safe when used, and that they must be of benefit to the consumer. Setting maximum limits on the use of food additives in foods and beverages contributes to a legal certainty,” he explained.

“It is worth highlighting that Article 24 of the Law-Decree Number 986 sets forth that: ‘The use of an intentional additive will only be allowed when […] used within the permitted limit’.

“The draft law therefore proposes to change this approach, followed internationally, to another one setting minimum and maximum levels and requiring [manufacturers] to use the minimum quantities unless there is evidence to prove the technological usefulness of the higher maximum values. This approach could perhaps affect the legal certainty provided by current regulations,” Pineda added.

Cocktail effect

According to Pimentel, manufacturers should use minimal amounts of food additives as they are associated with an increase in food allergies and intolerances.

“Scholars point to the large quantities of chemicals currently being added to industrialized food formulations as one of the possible reasons for the increase in cases of intolerance and other toxic events. They are preservatives, acidulants, flavourings, dyes, and aromas, among others,” she wrote. "Prudence, in this context, should serve as a basis for restrictive state action.”

A 2018 prospective study conducted by French researchers suggested there may be a causal link between eating highly processed food and cancer risk. The researchers, who analysed dietary data from over 104,000 individuals, offered four possible explanations for this association, one of which was the use of additives.

While regulatory authorities set maximum safe levels, these levels do not account for the cocktail effect and the impact on health of consuming many additives each day was largely unknown, the scientists wrote.

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