Strong FDA Action on Food Dyes Urged
Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson
March 30, 2011
I’m glad that after many years of denial, the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the evidence linking synthetic food dyes to behavioral problems in children. Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and other dyes have no useful nutritional or preservative value; their only function is cosmetic. And by "cosmetic," I mean that dyes are often used to make junk food more attractive to young children, or to simulate the presence of a healthful fruit or other natural ingredient. Surprisingly, even foods that aren’t particularly colorful—such as instant mashed potatoes or pickles—are dyed.
The evidence that these petrochemicals worsen some children's behavior is convincing, and I hope that the FDA’s advisory committee will advise the agency to both require warning notices and encourage companies voluntarily to switch to safer natural colorings. (The FDA isn't asking the committee about a ban.) Having brightly colored Froot Loops, Skittles, Mountain Dews, or pickles or anything else just isn't worth putting any children at risk.
In Europe, a law requires most dyed foods (there are few) to bear a warning notice, which is a powerful incentive for food manufacturers not to use artificial dyes. Last I heard, Europe is surviving quite well. It is to the great shame of many U.S.-based food companies that they are marketing safer, naturally colored products in Europe but not in the United States.