Scathing comments from FSA chair Dame Deirdre Hutton this week have fuelled growing anger at how the agency is handling the issue of artificial additives in food.

Dame Deirdre, speaking at Thursday's FSA open board meeting, said she was "genuinely absolutely astonished" that the industry had not moved sooner to eradicate artificial additives in response to consumer demand.

"This is their responsibility and we would expect them to do this," she said. "The take-home message is that industry has a duty to listen to what has been said and the strength of feeling on this and get on with it."

But companies in the grocery sector accused the agency of trying to cast itself in a better light by ignoring the strides they have made in removing additives. They expressed concern that while the FSA's initial response to the results of a study by the University of Southampton was reasonable, it had since taken an increasingly aggressive stance towards the industry.

Last week, FSA chair Dame Deirdre Hutton admitted the FSA had not "got the balance quite right", adding: "We could have talked more about how we are pushing the industry to give parents more information sooner to help them make choices."

The comments came the day before a meeting with trade bodies called by the FSA, at which it demanded to know what companies were doing to remove additives.

Industry insiders said they believed the FSA was trying to deflect the spotlight from itself on to retailers and manufacturers following widespread criticism of the way it responded to the research. The FSA initially said it was not necessary to ban additives as they posed no public safety risk.

Since then it has come under fire from academics, consumer groups and the organic lobby to ban the additives outright. One source said the FSA was "trying to pander to consumer groups".

"They've not acknowledged the enormous amount of work the industry has done," he said. "This suggestion we're not doing enough is disheartening."