Is E127 Banned in the UK? – Legislation on Erythrosine/Red 3

E127 chemical structure

E127, also known as erythrosine or Red 3, is a synthetic red dye used in some food products. Many E numbers are banned in the United Kingdom due to related health risks, but what about E127?

Is E127 banned in the UK? And if so, why has the government banned its use?

The short answer is yes: E127 is banned in the United Kingdom.

Here you’ll find everything you need to know about E127 and its use in the UK. Keep reading more about its legal status, usage exceptions, health risks, and other commonly asked questions.


Is E127 Banned in the UK?

E127 is banned for use in food in the United Kingdom under Regulation (EC) No. 1333/2008 of the European Parliament.

Despite the UK leaving the European Union, this legislation was retained post-Brexit. This is due to two significant health findings related to ingestion of the compound:

  1. Adverse effects on activity and attention in children
  2. Increased incidences of thyroid tumors

The sole exception in food is the use of E127 in cocktail cherries. According to the legislation, E127 is limited to use in “cocktail cherries, candied cherries, bigarreaux cherries in syrup and cocktails.”

Maraschino cherries are naturally white, but Red 3 can legally be used to dye these cherries red to resemble their natural counterparts.

Moreover, some red tablets are coloured using E127. This is legal in the UK as the usage of the compound in tablets falls outside the food legislation laws. It can also legally be used in some cosmetic products under the EU Cosmetics Directive 76/768/EEC.


Why Is E127 Banned in Food Products in the UK?

As mentioned above, E127 was initially banned in Europe due to associations with hyperactivity in children.

E127 has not been proven to cause hyperactivity, but there is a correlation. This is because erythrosine contains high amounts of iodine (58% of its molecular weight) and sodium. There has been a long-standing link between these compounds and increased hyperactivity in children.

Secondly, animal research found links between E127 and an increased incidence rate of thyroid tumors. Erythrosine has been found to decrease the T3 hormone, thus stimulating the release of thyrotropin-releasing hormone and thyrotropin from the brain. This causes overstimulation of the thyroid and potential tumors. However, these findings have been re-evaluated more recently, and current low levels of E127 appear to be safe.


Where Else Is E127 Banned?

The United Kingdom and EU are not the only countries/political unions that have banned the use of E127 in food products.

Australia also has legislation in place regarding the use of erythrosine in food. Like the UK, Australia permits the use of E127 in cocktail cherries, but they are slightly more relaxed with their laws; it can also legally be used in moderation in icing or frosting.

On the other hand, E127 can legally be used in food products in the United States without restriction. The Center for Science in the Public Interest pushed for this change in 2008 due to the studies mentioned above. But the FDA chose not to take further action. Interestingly, despite its legal usage in food, Red 3 is banned for use in cosmetics and external drugs in the US.

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