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Health Canada says improving food colour labelling requirements would enable consumers to make more informed choices. ((Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters))

Canadians are invited to weigh in on Health Canada's proposed changes to improve food colouring labelling.

Under the agency's proposed changes, the option of using the general term "colour" would be eliminated, and manufacturers would be required to identify individual colours on ingredient labels for many, if not all, colours.

The Canadian Food and Drug Regulations allow manufacturers to use the general "colour" for one or more food colours. For most prepackaged foods, manufacturers may voluntarily declare individual colours by name.

"However, there is some evidence suggesting a link between consumption of certain food colours and adverse reactions in sensitive individuals," the department said in a release Thursday.

"More recently, certain food colour mixtures have been associated with behavioural effects in children. For these reasons, Health Canada considers it prudent to improve labelling requirements for food colours."

In 2007, a British study suggested certain artificial food colourings fuelled hyperactivity in children. Britain's Food Standards Agency urged parents of hyperactive children to avoid foods with multiple additives.

Colourings included in the study that are permitted for use in Canada, according to Health Canada's website, are:

  • Tartrazine, a yellow food dye used in ice cream, soft drinks and fish sticks. Besides hyperactivity, research has linked it to asthma, skin rashes and migraines. This product is banned in Norway and Austria.
  • Allura red, a dye used in soft drinks and bubble gum. This additive was introduced in the early 1980s to replace Amaranth, a dye that was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is only allowed in France and Italy in the production of caviar. Allura red is banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway.

Listing common names or ID numbers

By improving food colour labelling requirements, Health Canada said it aims to enable consumers to make more informed choices that could contribute to the reduction of adverse reactions.

In its letter to stakeholders, Health Canada noted there is evidence that certain food colours can elicit an allergic response or allergic-type sensitivity in certain individuals. The department gave the examples of tartrazine and cochineal, a natural food colour.

Requiring that food colours be identified on food labels would bring Canadian regulations closer to requirements in other countries and international standards, the letter said.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration requires certified synthetic colours to be declared. Australia, New Zealand and European Union members require all food colours to be declared either by their common names or numerical identification numbers, Health Canada noted.

The consultation with stakeholders and the public is open for comments until May 4, and is meant to seek input on options for labelling requirements.

Health Canada is accepting comments by email to bcs-bipc(at)hc-sc.gc.ca, using the words "Food Colour Labelling" in the subject, or by regular mail.