Artificial colourings were found to affect children's behaviour
A food safety watchdog has called for a Europe-wide ban on six artificial food colourings after research found a link with hyperactivity in children.
A total ban on the use of the colours would have to be agreed by the EU.
So the Foods Standard Agency wants UK ministers to push for voluntary removal of the colours by next year.
In September 2007, a UK study reported children behaved impulsively and lost concentration after consuming a drink containing additives.
Sunset yellow (E110) - Colouring found in squashes
Carmoisine (E122) - Red colouring in jellies
Tartrazine (E102) - New colouring in lollies, fizzy drinks
Ponceau 4R (E124) - Red colouring
Quinoline yellow (E104) - Food colouring
Allura red AC (E129) - Orange/red food dye
In the study, 300 children were randomly given one of three drinks, either a potent mix of colourings and additives, a drink that roughly matched the average daily additive intake of a child of their age or a "placebo" drink with no additives.
Their hyperactivity levels were measured before and afterwards, and researchers found that the drink with the highest level of additives had a "significantly adverse" effect compared with the placebo drink.
The six colourings concerned are found in many products such as sweets, confectionery, processed food and takeaways.
In light of the research, the FSA advised parents of hyperactive children to be aware of the potential risks of consuming the colourings.
But campaigners said more should be done.
At a board meeting on Thursday, FSA chair Dame Deirdre Hutton said: "The evidence we have suggests it would be sensible for these [colourings] to be taken out of food.
"We would like to see the use of colours phased out over a period. That does require mandatory action by the EU."
FSA board members explained that as EU legislation would take many years to come into force they wanted to see a voluntary "phasing out" of the colours as soon as possible.
The European Food Safety Agency said in March that effects of the food colourings on children's behaviour were small and the significance for children's development and education uncertain.
But the FSA added that as there were no nutritional benefits from the additives, there would be no cost or risk to the child in removing them from the diet.
Julian Hunt of industry body the Food and Drink Federation said: "UK food and drink manufacturers are already taking these colours out of products on supermarket shelves, so we are surprised the FSA board feels it is an appropriate use of their powers to call for a voluntary ban."
He said there was "a handful" of products, including mushy peas and battenburg cake, where it had not been possible to remove the colourings and the industry was concerned they would have to be taken off shop shelves.
Mr Hunt warned that a UK ban would be at odds with the rest of Europe, as it would not apply to European imports.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said they would be asking the FSA to continue to work with industry to voluntarily remove the additives, particularly from children's foods.
"If parents are concerned about any additives they should remember that, by law, food additives must be listed on the label so they can make the choice to avoid the product if they want to."
Anna Glayzer, campaign co-ordinator at Action on Additives, said: "We are delighted that the FSA has put its duty to the consumer first in their decision to recommend an EU ban.
She added: "We will be keeping a close eye on industry to see what effect the voluntary ban has."