It’s a flawed document that has surfaced regularly since the late 1970s. On Twitter, a viral post calls for taking note of a list of “E-codes in food” to “preserve your health and that of your family”. . This list contains six categories and classifies additives according to their supposed level of dangerousness.
First there are the so-called “non-harmful” additives, then the “suspected”, “dangerous”, those associated with “health disorders”, those presented as “carcinogenic” or as containing aluminium. It’s a “public health tweet”, thanks a user, when others advise using the Yuka application.
But this list is “very open to criticism, because it is incomplete and contains erroneous information”, underlines Sylvie Davidou, teacher-researcher in the food industry science and process laboratory at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (Cnam). Former scientific director at Siga, she participated in the development of a classification to assess the level of food processing.
“It is a false list, generally presented as coming from the Villejuif hospital, also explains Julie Chapon, co-founder of Yuka. It dates back more than twenty years, and was challenged by the hospital itself. She has no connection with Yuka. And indeed, the document bears many similarities to the Villejuif tract.
A list that has been circulating since the 1970s
The latter has been circulating since 1976 and establishes a list of dangerous food additives. It has been challenged on numerous occasions, in particular by the Gustave Roussy Cancer Research Institute, located within the Villejuif hospital and allegedly the author of the leaflet, denials of which are available on the website of the Professional Association of Specialty Food Ingredients (Synpa).
In 2011, 60 million consumers had already written an article on a similar list. It contained very similar categories: harmless, suspect, toxic-carcinogenic, additive symptoms, to avoid, to flee. We find the same symptoms or associated health problems: digestive disorders, skin problems, destruction of vitamin B12, etc. On these lists, the additive E330, presented as very dangerous or carcinogenic, “presents, for example, no health risk to date”, underlines Julie Chapon.
This is actually the name given to citric acid. “E330 is not an additive considered to be a health risk by EFSA and it is not carcinogenic,” adds Sylvie Davidou. The researcher points to many other errors in the 2022 list based on information from the DGCCRF, ANSES and the Siga classification, based on the opinions of the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa). She points out that additives presented as non-harmful are actually at risk, such as E104. Quinoline yellow is “high risk in the Siga classification, which means that EFSA has considered that if the daily dose is exceeded, there is an effect on humans,” she underlines.
In this so-called non-harmful category, certain additives are also prohibited in Europe such as E111, E126 or, in France, E130. In the list of so-called “carcinogenic” additives, E216 and E217 are not authorized in the European Union. “And I’m surprised that vegetable charcoal, E153, is suspect,” she points out.
The list approach is not “relevant”
Another assessment exists: the UFC-Que Choisir association offers an assessment grid for authorized food additives. It is based on the opinions of Efsa and the scientific publications of whistleblowers. “The problem is that this grid is produced by people who are not additive risk experts, says Sylvie Davidou. EFSA’s experts do not rely solely on one study, they give an opinion based on several studies, and this opinion is reviewed if solid additional studies are provided. »
For the teacher-researcher, the list approach is not “relevant”. It calls for caution, because it is also necessary to take into account the admissible daily doses and the cocktail effects, that is to say the mixture of additives. And above all, a “global” approach must be preferred, she defends. “The problem is linked to the quality of the food: when you have additives, it means that your food is very destructured and that from a nutritional point of view, it is not necessarily good for your health, it will be richer in fat, sweeter, saltier. »
“In ultra-processed foods, additives represent 40% of the problem,” she continues. The remaining 60% is something else, like dextrose, for example, which is glucose. The real problem, for her, remains the ultra-processing of food.