Is it Time to Ban Controversial Food Dyes?

Prominent United States advocacy group, The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), has asked the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban eight <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/toxic_substances">artificial food dyes, citing studies linking the food colorings to behavioral problems in children.  The FDA has long maintained that research shows no solid link between food dyes and behavioral disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); however, CSPI experts believe newer studies prove otherwise.  Artificial food dyes—which tend to be cheaper and look more vibrant than natural colorings—are primarily derived from petroleum and coal tars.

The CSPI, prompted by the success of an ongoing consumer uprising against artificial food dyes in the United Kingdom, hopes that by focusing on the issue, US producers will choose to drop the synthetic dyes.  According to Kraft spokesman Michael Mitchell, “This is about listening to consumers.”  And, in the UK, they are listening.  Food giant Mars, Inc. removed artificial coloring from Starburst and Skittle candies sold in the UK and Kraft in the UK removed the dyes from its British Lunchables. The McDonald’s Corporation uses natural colorings for strawberry shakes and sundaes in the UK, but continues to use artificial dyes for these products in the US.

In the US, consumers do not appear concerned, whereas Kraft’s market research in the UK has shown a “much higher interest” in food dyes.  In the US, consumers seemed to be more concerned over calorie, fat, and sodium content, so in the US, Kraft, Mars, and others continue to add artificial dyes to food products.

CSPI reports that the blue coloring in Aunt Jemima’s blueberry waffles does not come from blueberries, but is derived from artificial food dyes Red 40 and Blue 2.  The CSPI has petitioned the FDA to ban the two most commonly used dyes—Red 40 and Yellow 5, as well as Blue 2 and five other synthetic dyes.  Because these petitions can take years to decide, the CSPI asked the FDA to require warning labels be included on products made with artificial dyes in the interim.

And while the FDA claims it has reviewed this issue before and found no conclusive evidence to support such claims, the CSPI points to a newer study from Britain that found kids who drank artificially colored juice had increased hyperactivity over children who drank a placebo not containing artificial coloring.  The CSPI cited a study funded by the British government and published in September in a UK medical journal.  After a review of trials involving about 200 children, researchers at the UK’s Southampton University found that there was a statistically significant link between hyperactive behavior and the consumption of certain artificial colors, including Red 40 and Yellow 5.  Britain is now phasing out these dyes and pediatricians recommend avoiding artificially colored junk food.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency recommended that by the end of 2009, food manufacturers should stop using several artificial colors and also called for the UK to lobby for a Europe-wide ban.  A number of key supermarket chains in the UK have also pledged to cut back on selling food containing “nasties,” a common British term for artificial additives.

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