FDA to Require Foods, Cosmetics to List Bug Dye Linked to Allergies

Color additives made from insects will have to be listed on food and cosmetics labels by 2011.  Right now, when the bug dyes are listed on the packaging of food and cosmetics, they are simply listed as “artificial color,” said the Free Press News Service, which noted that the change in description came about over reports of allergic reactions and a decade-old petition filed by a consumer advocacy group.

Although the labeling will be revised in two years, it will not indicate that bugs are involved in affected products’ manufacture, notes Free Press News, which explained that, instead, products will simply list carmine and cochineal extract.  The Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) new rule becomes effective on January 5, 2011, said WebMD.  

These dyes are derived from dried cochineal bugs and eggs and are used in “dozens of reddish-colored foods and beverages, including fruit drinks, ice creams, yogurts, and candies,” states a news release from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  The CSPI petitioned the FDA over 10 years ago to ban the extracts but has been unable to create a complete list of products containing the bug-derived coloring, said The Palm Beach Post.

The extracts create bright red, pink, and magenta pigments and come from the carminic acid that some female insects from the cochineal family produce and are used to make artificial flowers; paints and inks; cosmetics, such as blush; and food additives.  Cochineal can be bright orange, said the Palm Beach Post, which said its purer form—carmine—is “vivid” red, but it can be found in purple or pink colorings.  Bloomberg News further explains that carmine is a crimson or purplish-red, while cochineal is red.

Bloomberg News noted that the insects are used in Estee Lauder Company and Clinique make-up and some Dannon yogurts, which, in some cases, do list the ingredients by name.  The Palm Beach Post said to also be on the lookout for other products containing the bug extracts including waffles, lipstick, strawberry milk, candy, shampoo, and nail polish and quoted CSPI’s Executive Director Michael Jacobson as saying that the extracts “can be” in “anything red.”

Although the FDA says it does not consider carmine and cochineal extracts to be “major” food allergens, it did note that some of the allergic reactions were severe and included anaphylaxis among the responses reported, WebMD said.  The FDA explained that its final rule was a response to “reports of severe allergic reactions,” including the life-threatening and often fatal, anaphylaxis, and was also responding to CSPI’s submission of a citizen petition.  Drawing from FDA information, the Palm Beach Post said that one girl broke out in hives, one woman was hospitalized for five days, and another woman experienced difficulty breathing after consuming red-dyed food products.

Under the new rules, labels will not be required to indicate that the extracts are potential allergens. WebMD said food and cosmetic manufacturers may indicate the extracts by name on products in advance of the new rule becoming effective in two years.  Jacobson said in a news release that while the FDA’s rule is “useful progress” the agency “should have exterminated these critter-based colorings altogether,” reported WebMD.

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