witness statement

name: Dr. Erik Millstone
section: Nutrition
for: The Defence
experience: Food Additive Expert


The witness provides an expert diagnostic on the use, safety and toxicity of food additives. The witnesses assertions are objective of government and private sector funding and lead to potentially alarming conclusions.
Consequently I am satisfied that, despite the fact that all the additives referred to by the Defendants may lawfully be used in the UK, some of them may be undesirable, and that there is evidence that they may pose a hazard to some consumers.


Full cv:
(not available for this witness)

full statement:


I have been asked by London Greenpeace to appear for them as an expert witness on the topic of the use, safety and toxicity of food additives, and I have agreed to do so.

In my capacity as a member of university faculty, I have focussed much of my research work for the past twenty years on a study of the use, regulation, safety and toxicity of food additives. I have published extensively in this field, and am one of the very few researchers in the field in the UK who is independent of both industry and government.

In the course of my research I have concluded that when govermments, and international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the European Commission, decide which additives to permit and which to forbid, they make their judgements by reference primarily to the results of animal studies. There is, however, very considerable scope for disagreement on the crucial question of how to interpret the results of those studies, and the relevance of data obtained from animals for humans.

I am satisfied that the available evidence is frequently being interpreted by these official bodies in ways which awards the benefit of the very considerable doubts to the chemicals and the industry, rather than to the consumer. Consequently I am satisfied that, despite the fact that all the additives referred to by the Defendants may lawfully be used in the UK, some of them may be undesirable, and that there is evidence that they may pose a hazard to some consumers.

supplementary statement:

Letter of 8th December 1993

In response to your request that I provide you with a review of the safety and toxicity of nine food additives, what follows is firstly a general discussion of how food additive toxicology is usually evaluated, and secondly detailed comments on the nine compounds in question.

Since all nine of those compounds may lawfully be used in the food supply in the UK my comments take the form of a critique of the evaluations provided by official national and intenational bodies. This document starts with a general introduction, then a list of abbreviations and a gloassary of terms are provided, and then the nine compounds are dealt with in turn, though I should point out that Sodium Nitrite (E250) and Potassium Nitrate (E252) and discussed together.

General Introduction

In Britain it is the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) which has the responsibility for regulating, approving and restricting the use of food additives. The names of their expert committees have changed over the years. It was in 1942 during the Second World War, that the government first established the Food Standards Committee (FSC) whose responsibility was to advise the government on a wide range of issues concerning food, diet and health. From 1965 until 1983 it was supplemented by the Food Additives and Contaminants Committee (FACC), but in 1983 these two were merged to form the Food Advisory Committee (FAC). When the FACC, and now the FAC, are deciding whether or not to recommend that ministers approve the use of specific additives they are supposed to make a judgement based on two criteria: need and safety. Issues of need are settled by these committees, but on questions of safety they in turn take advice from other committees Formely they turned to a Pharmacology Sub-Committee, but more recently they have established a Committee on the Toxicity of Chemicals in Food (CoT) which is the responsibility of the Department of Health. These committees have published a series of reports and these are discussed below.

In the USA responsibility for regulating food additives lies with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Their procedures are significantly different from those which operate in the UK and the EC. The single most important difference is that their activities are subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, and so are not as secretive as those which occur in Europe, and furthermore their judgements can be, and sometimes are, scrutinised and challenged by Congress and in the civil courts.

While the regulation of food additives has been primarily a national activity, there has been some international co-operation for at least 30 years. With the support of most governments of the industrialised countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAC) established the Codex Alimentarius Commission in the early 1960s, and Codex (as it is usually called) then established a Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) in the mid-1960s. Of all the formal and official committees involved in the regulation of food additives, JECFA has been most thorough and most open about their evaluations of chemicals. They have published a long series of reports and it is these which have provided the basis for the production of this dictionary. They have, moreover, given a lead to national governments, so that for example the British advisory committees frequently rely upon, refer and defer to the judgements of JECFA.

When it comes to judging the safety of a chemical, we have to turn to the science of toxicology. Experimental toxicologists seek to estimate the likely effects of chemicals on the people exposed to them. Toxicology is a very complex and troublesome science, and of course it has to deal not just with food additives but also, for example, with agricultural chemicals such as pesticides, pharmaceutical products, cosmetics and the whole range of chemicals in our environment. The science of toxicology is made up of three distinct sub-disciplines, and an overall evaluation of a chemical must take into account information from each of these.

The first two parts of toxicology do not study the effects on humans, but study instead the effects which chemicals have in model systems, in the hope that these models might shed some light on the likely effects on humans. The first part involves tests conducted on bacteria or cell cultures in glass dishes and the second part comprises tests on whole live animals.

If human evidence is available it can be particularly informative because it tells us directly what we want to know, whereas the other parts of toxicology give us information about non-human organisms from which we have to draw inferences as to the likely effects of the chemicals on people. One major problem, however, is that the methods and techniques of epidemiology are currently too insensitive to enable us to detect the effects which additives may be having over the tong term. We consume many different chemicals, in numerous complex combinations, and only rarely can we distinguish two population groups which differ only in that one group avoids a chemical which the other consumes. Consequently the science of epidemiology has very little to contribute to food additive toxicology. Clinical studies have their limitations because the people who are investigated are at best a very small and unrepresentative sample of the population as a whole. As a result almost all our evaluations of the possible effects of food addittives have to depend on inferences drawn from toxicological models. The most fundamental problem with human studies is precisely that we want to know what effects chemicals would have on humans before they come into use, and we don't want to have to wait until after people have been poisoned.

When they evaluate and review the safety of a food additive, international agencies and national governments often review the same information but they usually make different kinds of judgements. JECFA and the SCF consider specific chemicals in abstraction from their uses, and seek to assess how much if any, of a chemical can be safely consumed in food and drinks on a regular basis. National agencies consider, in the light of the evaluations provided by JECFA and the SCF, whether to approve the use of specific food additives in specific groups of products.

To be precise, the ADI is equal to the NEL divided by a safety factor (SF). According to the textbook accounts, this safety factor is normally set at 100. This figure is obtained by assuming that humans as a whole may be 10 times more sensitive to chemicals than the laboratory animals, and that there may be a 10-fold variation in sensitivity within a population of humans. The safety factor of 100 is then simply the product of the two factors of 10. In practice, we find that when different safety factors are employed by JECFA and the SCF, but these other numbers are no less arbitrary than the figure of 100. The units in which both the NEL's and ADI's are specified is milligrams of chemical per kilogram of body weight of the animal or human, and in this dictionary, as in the official publications, it is abbreviated as `mg/kg bw'. In exceptional cases, instead of setting an ADI, JECFA will approve the use of a chemical up to a particular level of use, in parts per million (ppm) by weight of the food.

In the reports of JECFA and the SCF we find brief summaries of the results of toxicological tests, and wherever possible an NEL is identified, and from it an ADI is set, but it is important to remember that these numbers change through time, and the two committees do not always agree with each other.

The British advisory committees have only recently started to set ADIs, and so far they have set only a very few. The CoT also lists chemicals into five groups, from A to E. These are defined as follows:

For those chemicals which the CoT list in Groups A or B, the FACC (or as it has now become, the FAC) will recommend to ministers that they approve the inclusion of those substances in specific groups of products.

Toxicology is a very uncertain and unreliable science. It is not possible to take at face value all of the information which is generated by each of the three parts of toxicology. There are innumerable contradictions both within and between the results of different studies in all parts of toxicology. There is no consensus amongst experts, and the availabie evidence is not by itself sufficient to enable experts to settle the question of what should be permitted and what banned.

From the point of view of the consuming public, the crucial question is: who is getting the benefit of the doubt? If experts, officials and government are giving the benefit of the doubt to consumers then they will assume that a chemical is toxic until it is proved to be safe, but if they are giving the benefit of the doubt to industry then they will assume it to be safe until proved harmful. The text which follows is based on the assumption that consumers deserve the benefit of the doubt.

List Of Abbreviations

  • ADI:acceptable daily intake of a chemical, measured in mg/kg bw

  • CoT: Committee on the Toxicity (of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment) at the DoH

  • DoH:Department of Health - formerly the Department of Health and Social Security

  • EC:European Community

  • FAC:Food Advisory Committee of MAFF - formerly the FACC

  • FACC: Food Additives and Contaminents Committee of MAFF

  • FAO Food and Additives Organisation (of the United Nations)

  • FDA:(the United States') Food and Drug Administration

  • FSC: Food Standards Committee ofMAFF

  • JECFA: Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation

  • mg/kg bw:milligrammes per kilogramme of body weight of a laboratory animal or a human consumer

  • MAFF: Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

  • NEL: no (observable adverse) effect level in laboratory animals, measured in mg/kg bw

  • ppm: parts per million

  • SCF: Scientific Committee for Food ofthe EEC

  • SF: safety factor

  • WHO: World Health Organisation


    date signed: July 21, 1993
    status: Appeared in court
    references: Not applicable/ available
    exhibits: Not applicable/ available

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