CSPI Sees Red Over Food Dyes and Children’s Health
By MedHeadlines • Jun 3rd, 2008 • Category: Children's Health, Diet, Prevention

Hoping today is the “beginning of the end,” the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and 19 prominent doctors and scientists filed a petition with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calling for a ban on eight widely used artificial dyes that have been linked repeatedly to behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, in children.

Food dyesIt has been well known since the 1970s that many synthetic food dyes create behavioral problems in children but the food industry has increased their use instead of eliminating them. The United Kingdom has already taken measures to phase out several of the dyes in question. The CSPI feels an industry-wide ban on these artificial chemicals is a much less dramatic measure than putting thousands of US children on prescription drugs such as Ritalin to curb the behavioral difficulties they experience as a result of ingesting these synthetic chemicals.

The eight dyes - Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 - are used to enhance the appearance of processed foods, often marketed to an audience of children, in place of the actual foods they are supposed to represent. Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, calls the unnecessary use of these artificial dyes the secret shame of the US food industry as well as the regulators charged with controlling food safety.

Many processed food products marketed to children in the US contain synthetic dyes known to cause behavioral problems while the same products sold on the British market do not contain the artificial ingredients. One such product identified by the CSPI is the strawberry sauce on McDonald’s sundaes. In the US, the red color comes from Red 40. In Britain, the red color comes from actual strawberries.

Other US-marketed products that contain synthetic dyes known to cause hyperactivity and other issues with behavior in children include popular products from the Mars candy manufacturer, such as M&Ms, Skittles, and Starburst Chew candies. The same products sold on the British market contain natural colorings, not the problematic artificial kind.

Throughout three decades of tests conducted in the US, Europe, and Australia, the behavior of children has been shown to be dramatically influenced by a diet that contains artificial coloring agents. In many of these studies, parents enrolled their children in the studies when they suspected a sensitivity to synthetic dyes but two studies recently conducted in Britain confirmed previous findings and tested children in the general population, not only those thought to be particularly sensitive to artificial colors in their food.

Jacobson says the food industry uses synthetic dyes to hide the absence of real food in a product, to make children’s food products of low nutritional value more appealing, or to do a combination of the two. Many packaged foods marketed to adults also contain the synthetic dyes. Sugar-coated cereals, candies, snack foods, and sodas are especially laden with the behavior-influencing dyes.

FDA data for 1955 shows the daily amount of food dyes allowed for consumption per capita was 12 milligrams. Similar data for 2007 shows FDA approval for 59 milligrams per day per capita, an increase of almost five times the 1955 rate.

Brightly colored processed food products aren’t the only ones that contain synthetic dyes. To address the pervasive use of artificial dyes in the nation’s food supply the CSPI petition includes a request for interim warning labels on all foods that contain artificial dyes until a complete ban on them can be implemented.

Source: Center For Science In The Public Interest (CSPI)