The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is advising parents to give young children no more than three beakers (about 180ml each) a day of dilutable soft drinks, or squashes, containing the sweetener cyclamate.
The warning is explained as a precautionary measure because drinking more than this amount could lead to children aged 18 months to four and a half taking in more than the cyclamate Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), a safety level recommended by independent scientific experts.
The FSA is also recommending that when preparing dilutable soft drinks containing cyclamate, also known as E952, for young children, parents should dilute them more than they would for an adult. Products containing cyclamate are required by law to be labelled 'with sweetener' or 'with sugar and sweeteners' and include the names cyclamate, cyclamic acid or E952 in the list of ingredients.
The Agency also said it is pressing the European Commission, other Member States and soft drinks manufacturers to reduce the maximum permitted level of cyclamate used in all soft drinks. This will ensure that even young children who drink large amounts of dilutable soft drinks will not exceed the ADI for cyclamate.
Results of an Agency survey of soft drinks consumed by young children, published last week, showed that they drink three times as many dilutable soft drinks a day than any other type of soft drink containing additives, such as carbonated drinks.
The Agency said that their survey and subsequent calculations indicate that, even though manufacturers have not exceeded the maximum permitted level of cyclamate in their soft drink formulation, when drinking large amounts (five or more beakers) of squash containing cyclamate per day, young children could be consuming up to twice the ADI for this sweetener. Although it also confirms that when drinking average amounts (one or two beakers), young children will be below the ADI for cyclamate.
The agency further states that young children drinking large amounts of dilutable soft drinks containing aspartame, acesulfame K, or saccharin would not be above the ADI for these sweeteners.
Finally, the FSA states that information from parents taking part in the FSA survey indicates that cyclamate was only used in a small proportion (2 per cent) of the soft drinks given to young children during the survey period, all of which were dilutable soft drinks or carbonated drinks.