THE state's health and education ministers have instructed their government representatives on the board of NSW's School Canteen Association to look into claims that products endorsed by the association are producing adverse reactions in students.
The Whitty's brand of slushies, sold in an unknown number of school canteens throughout NSW, contain four artificial food colourings which are permitted in Australia but are being banned by the European Union, the US and Scandinavia because of their link to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The drinks, promoted as "99 per cent fruit" contain synthetic flavourings and preservatives including sodium benzoate, which is associated with ADHD and can affect people with asthma.
The slushies contravene the guidelines of the body for advice and information on canteen food, Healthy Kids SCA, which warns the maker against "images of fruit or use of fruit names when the fruit component in the ingredients is different to the fruit image, name or flavour".
But on Friday the association, which receives state funding and has government health and education representatives on its board, defended the product.
The manager of the scheme, Jo Gardner, said although it recognised some children might react adversely to some food colourings and preservatives, "additives have a role in … ensuring our food is safe and meets the needs of consumers".
Spokesmen for the Minister for Health, John Della Bosca, and the Minister for Education, Verity Firth, said yesterday they would instruct their representatives to raise the matter at the board's meeting tomorrow.
A teacher from a northern suburbs high school, who spoke on condition his school would not be identified, said there had been complaints of headaches and breathing difficulties and a noticeable rise in disruptive behaviour - even from normally well-behaved students - since the canteen began selling slushies at lunch last term. But when he raised his concerns with the P & C, he was told the drinks had been approved by Healthy Kids SCA.
Julie Eady, the head of Additive Alert, said Ms Gardner's comments were "an absolute cop-out" and out of step with parent and community expectations. "What percentage of kids is it OK to harm?" she said. "There are plenty of safe alternative food colourings and preservatives the manufacturer could have chosen."