New French study on the harmfulness of food additives for human health

17 November 2021

Food additives are substances intentionally added to foodstuffs for various technological, sensory, and nutritional purposes (e.g. extending shelf life, sweetening, or stabilizing purposes). Recent evidence has suggested the detrimental effects of several widely consumed additives, revealing the correlation between the consumption of “ultra-processed foods”, which are high in food additives, and the increased risk of suffering from chronic diseases.  In the EU, food additives represent about 330 authorized compounds under the Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008, and their toxicity is evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). 

A recent research from NutriNet-Santé, a French cohort study launched by the Health Ministry in 2009, provides new and significant data regarding people’s consumption of food additives, including those for which potential adverse health effects have been suggested by recent experimental studies. The study aimed at (1) estimating the typical intake of food additives among participants and (2) identifying the main mixtures of food additives consumed and the corresponding profiles of consumers in terms of socio-demographic characteristics. 106,489 adults were surveyed since 2009, with the consumption of 90 main food additives evaluated. 

Results revealed that 48 additives were consumed by more than 10% of the participants, with modified starches and citric acid consumed by more than 90%. Most importantly, the study finds that the top 50 additives also included those for which potential adverse health effects have been suggested by recent experimental studies. Moreover, they identified five clusters of participants more specifically exposed to five additive mixtures and one additional cluster gathering participants with overall low additive exposure.  Against these data, NutriNet-Santé has claimed the need for further epidemiological and experimental studies on the health impact and potential cocktail effects of food additives.

SAFE welcomes the research conducted by NutriNet-Santé on food additives, having taken part in the last year in NGO and consumer calls for an EU-wide ban of titanium dioxide (TiO2) as a food additive (E171) that culminated inEFSA’s safety assessment banning its use. To know more on SAFE’s actions and position on food additives, click here.