FDA to Hold Hearing on Food Dyes, Children's Behavior

Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson


The news that the Food and Drug Administration, in response to CSPI’s 2008 petition, will convene an advisory committee meeting to discuss the link between food dyes and children’s behavior is welcome and overdue. Yellow 5, Red 40, and other commonly used food dyes have long been shown in numerous clinical studies to impair children’s behavior. But for years, FDA—which actually commissioned one of the first controlled studies—dismissed the mounting evidence against the dyes.

The continued use of synthetic food dyes is hardly worth the risk. What’s the benefit? Junk food that’s even more appealing to children than it already is? Why, when we’re medicating so many children for hyperactivity, would we let food manufacturers worsen some children’s problems? Behavioral problems aside, animal studies indicating that dyes pose a cancer risk provide another reason for banning those chemicals.

Fortunately, a few companies are adopting smarter policies even in the absence of government action. Starbucks does not permit dyes in any of its beverages or pastries, NECCO has switched to safer natural colorings for its famous Wafers, and Frito-Lay is testing dye-free snack foods.

Food safety officials in Europe have moved much more quickly to protect children from artificial dyes. The British government has urged companies to stop using most dyes, and the European Union requires a warning notice on most dyed foods. As a consequence, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald’s, and other American companies that do business in Europe use safe, natural colorings there—but harmful, synthetic petrochemicals here. I hope that the FDA’s March meeting portends the end of artificially dyed foods in the United States. 

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