DANGEROUS DYES? A food safety advocacy group claims eight dyes commonly used in food, from Lucky Charms to M&Ms, cause behavioral problems in children. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration disputed these claims in the past, it seems unlikely it will ban the artificial colorings.

Monday the Center for Science in the Public Interest formally petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban eight food dyes, including the two most common - Red 40 and Yellow 5. The United Kingdom already phased out several of these dyes.

FDA Considers Petition to Ban Artificial Food Colors

The Center for Science in the Public Interest asked the FDA to ban the following dyes:
  • Yellow 5
  • Red 40
  • Blue 1
  • Blue 2
  • Green 3
  • Orange B
  • Red 3
  • Yellow 6
While the FDA considers the Center's petition, which could take years, the Center asked the FDA to:
  • require products containing the dyes carry a warning about their possible effects
  • correct information given to consumers about the dyes' effect on some children's behavior
  • test neurotoxicity of any new food additives and colors
Red 40 and Yellow 5 are the most common dyes used in foods in the United States.

Kids Favorite Foods Colored with Artificial Dyes

Food manufacturers use dyes to simulate fruit or vegetable colors. Here are a few examples:
  • Kraft's Guacamole Dip - green color comes from Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Blue 1 (not from avocadoes)
  • Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles - blue color comes from Red 40 and Blue 2 (not blueberries)
  • General Mills' Fruit Roll-Ups - fruity colors come from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, and Blue 1 (not from raspberries, strawberries, kiwis, or other real fruits)
  • Betty Crocker's Au Gratin "100% Real" Potatoes - yellow color comes from Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 (not from potatoes)
Food manufacturers often use artificial colors in foods for children, such as cereals and snack foods. Here are a few foods that contain one or more of the disputed dyes:
  • Apple Jacks
  • Froot Loops
  • Fruity Cheerios
  • Lucky Charms
  • Post's Fruity Pebbles
  • Trix
  • Starburst Chews
  • Skittles
  • M&M
  • Mars candy bars and other candies
When Great Britain banned artificial dyes, food manufacturers switched to natural colorings. In fact, British versions of the candies listed above all use natural colors.

Here's another difference: In the United States, McDonalds colors its sundae strawberry sauce with Red 40. In Britain? The sauce's red color comes from strawberries.

Most artificial dyes come from coal tar and petroleum.

Consumers Drive Food, Say Manufacturers

By petitioning the FDA, the Center for Science in the Public Interest hopes to focus the public on the synthetic food dye issue. Why? Food manufacturers responded to public pressure in the United Kingdom.

When researchers at the U.K.'s Southampton University ran trials with 200 children, they found a link between eating artificially colored foods and acting hyperactive. The U.K.'s Food Standards Agency then recommended that food manufacturers stop using several dyes by the end of 2009.

When Kraft conducted market research in Great Britain, it found Brits worried more about food dyes than Americans. (Americans worry more about calories, fat and salt content.) So, based on its research, Kraft replaced artificial coloring with natural coloring in its food products for Great Britain.

Food Dyes on the Rise

American children eat more artificially dyed foods now than ever before, thanks to the FDA approving increasing amounts of food dyes:

Dye Certified for Food Use
  • 1955 - 12 mgs/person each day
  • 2007 - 59 mgs/person each day
Two psychiatrists, Dr. David Schab of Columbia University and Dr. Nhi-Ha T. Trinh of Harvard University, wanted to find out if artificial food coloring contributes to hyperactivity. They analyzed 15 double-blind placebo-controlled trials evaluating the effects of food dyes on children's behavior.

"The science shows that kids' behavior improves when these artificial colorings are removed from their diets and worsens when they're added to the their diets," Schab said. "While not all children seem to be sensitive to these chemicals, it's hard to justify their continued use in foods - especially those foods heavily marketed to young children." (Center for Science in the Public Interest, 6/2/08)