Maryland Legislators Eye Prohibition on Behavior-Disrupting Food Dyes

School Foods in Particular Should be Free of Controversial Colorings, Says CSPI


WASHINGTON—Maryland may become the first state in the country to protect children—and their families—from Red 40, Yellow 5, and other artificial food dyes that worsen hyperactivity and other behavior problems in some children. One bill introduced by Senator Norman Stone (D-Baltimore County) would require warning labels on foods that contain the dyes and then prohibit their use after 2012, and another bill would prohibit dyed foods in Maryland schools.

Two hearings on the measures are scheduled for Wednesday, February 11 in Annapolis. Bethesda resident David Schardt, CSPI’s senior nutritionist, will testify in favor of the bills at the hearings.

Health experts have been concerned about the impact of food dyes on learning and behavior since the 1970s. In 2008, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest called on the Food and Drug Administration to ban artificial food dyes in the wake of two British studies demonstrating the dyes promote increased hyperactivity and related behavior problems in children.

CSPI today announced its strong support for the legislation introduced by Senator Stone.

"Evidence linking Red 40, Yellow 5, and other synthetic food dyes to behavioral problems in children has been mounting for 30 years," said Schardt. "The Food and Drug Administration should have banned the dyes years ago and responsible manufacturers could have stopped using them voluntarily. But since they haven't, state legislatures have an opportunity and responsibility to protect children from these chemicals. I hope Senator Stone’s legislation is adopted and inspires other state legislatures to similarly put the interest of children ahead of the convenience of junk-food companies."

In Europe, regulators and industry have made considerable progress toward eliminating artificial dyes from food products, though American versions of the very same products continue to get their colors from synthetic dyes. For instance, the syrup in a strawberry sundae from a McDonald's in the U.K. gets its red color from strawberries; in the U.S., the red color comes from synthetic Red 40.

In the U.S., synthetic food dyes are common in brightly colored foods popular with children, including candies, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, and snack foods. Sometimes the sunny synthetic colors are designed to simulate fruits or vegetables, as in the case of a "Guacamole Dip" produced by Kraft, which gets its green color not from avocados but from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 1. The "artificially flavored blueberry bits" in Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles are blue thanks to Red 40 and Blue 2, not blueberries.

"These dyes may be cheaper than real food ingredients, but given the troubling evidence concerning their impact on our children, I do not see how we can continue to justify their use," said Schardt. "Parents and educators have a hard enough time addressing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and behavioral conditions in children. The chemicals in the foods served to our children should not exacerbate these problems."

S.B. 101 would require the following warning label on any food products containing Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, or Yellow 6: "Warning: The color additives in this food may cause hyperactivity and behavior problems in some children." After 2012, the sale of foods containing the dyes would be prohibited in the state of Maryland. S.B. 100 would prohibit the availability of foods with any of the eight dyes in schools or child care facilities, unless provided for a child by a parent.

CSPI collects adverse behavioral reports from parents who suspect that food dyes make matters worse.

Related Links and Downloads: