FDA to Re-examine Risks of Artificial Food Dyes

The FDA is convening an advisory panel later this week for a two day “colorthon” to discuss mounting evidence that artificial food dyes are causing hyperactivity in kids.

This is huge folks.

What you need to know:

The FDA long ago granted GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status to several artificial dyes including red #40, yellow #5, and others, that have been linked in studies to hyperactivity in kids as well as cancer. These studies have been disputed though, usually by industry funded experts. This blog is not the place to go into the details of study design and methodology, but just take a look at what our neighbors across the Atlantic have done.

The British government has found the studies disturbing enough to warrant warning labels on products using artificial colors. Guess what happened almost instantly?

Companies figured out a way to use natural colors instead. Yes, the strawberry filling may be a bit less fluorescent than it used to be, but none of the food companies have gone out of business so far.

So why don’t US companies follow suit? Why doesn’t Kellogg’s change the red #40 dye on its Nutri-grain bars in the US like it did for the same exact product in the UK?

Because the greedy corporate number crunchers couldn’t care less about your children’s health. If they can save half a cent per package of bars, and get away with it, that’s what will happen.

We’ve written many times about this matter, and we’ll keeping hammering down until all artificial food dyes are removed from our food supply.

Thankfully, some companies are beginning to mend their ways (if only partially):

Frito-Lay is promoting its decision to get rid of artificial colors and flavors in more than 60 of its snack products, substituting ingredients such as beet juice and carrots for Red No. 40, one of the artificial dyes.

“We’re always looking for new ways to give consumers what they’re looking for, which includes providing a wider range of products made with natural ingredients,” said Jeff Dahncke, a spokesman for Pepsico, which owns Frito-Lay. But the company said it has no plans to mess with the chemically enhanced orange of its Doritos or Cheetos, two of its top-selling brands. Read more from the Washington Post…

“Giving consumers what they are looking for” is not really the story, that’s just PR speak. The removal of problematic ingredients happens only when we consumers unite and vote with our pocketbooks.

Or when the FDA intervenes on our behalf, something that rarely happens, unfortunately.

What to do at the supermarket:

Try to avoid any product that has artificial colors. If enough of us do so, we’ll be sending a clear message to the industry – enough is enough.

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  • Anonymous

    would anyone really complain if Doritos and Cheetos were a different color but tasted exactly the same? I don’t think so. We let corporations bully us. This meeting is promising — I just hope the FDA gains a spine and stands up to these corporations and bans Red #40 and all artificial coloring. Many companies have proven we don’t need them. My son has ADHD and red #40 makes him super-hyper, aggressive, and irrational, especially in large quantities like red Gatorade. We have learned to avoid all artificial color as much as possible. How nice it would be if I could go to the grocery and not look for chemical color in every product I consider buying though. Just last week I wanted to buy marshmallows and realized every single brand of plain white marshmallows had blue food coloring. ugh!

    • http://www.myyearinhaiku.blogspot.com grace

      Yes, we bought marshmallows for a science project and found the same. My kids could not understand why blue food coloring was in a white food! We all wondered what the marshmallows would look like without the blue dye….

      • Mr. Bob

        They would be yellow. I believe the main ingredient is corn syrup which has a yellow tinge. The blue cancels out the yellow.

        The same thing can be done with yellowed laundry. They used to sell something called bluing (still may) which was basically a blue dye. You would add a small amount to your white load of laundry. The blue dye would cancel the yellowing. This was very common “back in the day.”

        • Cat

          Very true, my Mum used to use the ‘bluing’ product in laundry.

      • liz

        I make my marshmallows at home, and not only is it easy, but they turn out perfectly white: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/homemade-marshmallows-recipe/index.html

      • liz

        I make my marshmallows at home, and not only is it easy, but they turn out perfectly white: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/homemade-marshmallows-recipe/index.html

        • Charlotte

          <3 Alton :o D

    • Holly

      The Walmart brand does not contain dyes, it’s the only brand I’ve found that doesn’t have any.

  • shopwise

    Whole Foods only sells products with no artificial colors. Shopping there makes avoiding food coloring easy. They even sell “marichino” cherries — which my daughter loves and we love too.

  • http://www.myyearinhaiku.blogspot.com grace

    Its really rather insulting that food companies think we can’t eat something that is clear or pink and know it still takes like cherry or strawberry. We don’t have to have it neon red to know!!!

  • http://twitter.com/Porschechick997 Nikkie Burr

    Being involved in the promotion of Healthy eating here in Italy, and with a Toxicologist partner I follow the eating trends of the world very closely…… Grace a strawberry is the ONLY thing that tastes like a strawberry should, likewise for a cherry…the trick is to eat fresh, localy produced in season fruit and vegetables and try to get the kids to munch on raw fruit and veggies rather than sweets…..
    Adhmomma…my stepbrother suffered and we traced it to salad cream…it seems the nanny was giving him salad cream as a bribe to get him to eat green vegetables… now I have shown my stepmom the wonders of extra virgin olive oil and lime juice as a condiment he has calmed considerably…… good luck to all of you in fighting for the right to be healthy!

  • Brooke

    VERY disappointed in this post!

    First, you are doing your readers a disservice by not elaborating on the meeting. This is a PUBLIC meeting. YOU can attend and hear for yourself. Alternative, you can visit the website and look at all the background info that the committee will be reviewing.

    Second, I seriously question your source of information in stating that color additives are approved under the GRAS process. In fact, Congress specifically stated that these types of color additives could NOT be considered GRAS (CSPI, Rainbow of Risks). This may be true for such things as beet & carrot juice used for food coloring,but artificial colors are one of the most highly regulated additives used in our food supply. For all readers interested, please navigate to the appropriate regulations from the above link.

    Also, this meeting is meant to serve as a public meeting of how decision-makers sift through information to get to a decision. It is clear that you have already made your decision based upon misguided information. I hope your readers will take the time to educate themselves by either following along with the meeting OR read through the materials posted at the FDA site that will be reviewed later this week and come to their own decision.

    Personally, I find a large correlation with artificial dyes and foods that I don’t want to consume regularly due to nutrition deficiencies. However, I do not go out of my way to avoid ALL artificial colorings (parties, holidays etc.).

  • WilliamB

    “Because the greedy corporate number crunchers couldn’t care less about your children’s health.”

    I come here for information, not opinion. In addition to being useless, this sort of one-sided and biased presentation undermines your position as a provider of useful information. Gross bias = unreliable information, as much as for you as for Kelloggs.

    • JGlackin

      It’s not an opinion, it is a fact. Take a look around. Read labels. See how these companies, including Kellogg’s, INTENTIONALLY mislead consumers into buying their products by falsely leading them to believe that their products are healthy and wholesome. I think Fooducate has more than established this with documented facts. Therefore, the case has been made that greedy corporate number crunchers couldn’t care less about your children’s health. 

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I applaud you for sharing this information with us. It’s important for us as consumers to have this information and do with it what we believe to be best for us.

  • http://www.thefrugaldietitian.com Nancy – The Frugal dietitian

    I think one concern of the studies is that they are too often biased – they are not double blinded and they allow parents to state changes. Parents want changes so much they “see” changes which are not there. More of a placebo effect.

  • Cat

    Well, if artificial dyes are so highly regulated why the heck are they in just about EVERYTHING??? I realised my daughter reacted to them when she was 11 months old and, once I started avoiding them, realised I react to them as well. It is not about ‘wanting to see’ that sort of reaction. It is getting much harder to monitor what my daughter eats now that she is 8 (and doesn’t want to feel left out at parties and so on) but, holy cow, do we pay for it afterwards. Anyone who thinks this is imaginary is welcome to babysit my daughter for a week after a party where all the food is neon. This issue makes me so angry!! If they have a natural alternative which doesn’t have any question marks over it, why don’t they just use it??? By the way, you can buy marshmallows without blue colour in them that are still white from health food shops so not sure how they do that but it can be done obviously.

    • Charlotte

      Probably because they are made with sugar and not corn syrup. If you melt sugar it remains clear.

      And I agree that the amount of dyes in foods is insane in this country.

    • Ccpolizzo

      Cat, you’d be surprised at how easy it is making homemade marshmallows! Ive been making them for quite some time!

      Everyone bitches about “time constraints” yet they disregard health for the sole discretion of convenience. I concur with your comments and felt the same obligations when my daughter attended many adolescent social functions -not one parent gave a damn about the crap their kids were eating. My only consolation now that my kid is a teenager: she recognizes (thank goodness!) the difference between junk food and real food and understands the consequences when making a bad choice. Heck, she tells me that her school friends can’t comprehend her abstention of fast food and they sit in amazement when she explains to them that they’re eating nothing more then chemically processed food laces with preservatives and dyes. Keep up your diligence with your daughter because it will pay off, trust me!

    • Holly

      I’ve found that the walmart brand of marshmallows are dye free! The only brand I’ve found so far. We are dye free too, my kids react horribly to it.

      • Jim Cooper

        Considering how weak the evidence is for children’s reacting to food dyes when double blind studies are carried out, you might look for other things they may be reacting to.

        • Caylamara

          Parents who found the cause of their child’s symptoms are buying foods without artificial colors and are not going to wait for the FDA to put warning labels on foods. We are not going to wait for someone to finally complete a very valid study so the FDA can say what we already know. It’s about money, it’s about consumer choice, but for me it’s also about educating others. I was a parent who could not understand what was happening to my child and why no form of dicipline would make a difference. I saw my child struggle with depression, a lower self-esteem, uncontrollable fits of anger, and a lack of friends. I was ignorant and unaware that artificial dyes could cause such a behavior change in my child. Two years of this without anyone telling me to look at the dyes my child was eating. Warning labels would have been helpful and saved valuable time with my child. Today he is a bright, sweet child, with the ability to manage his anger rationally like other kids his age. So studies or no studies, I am not buying it any longer. Money talks in this greedy world. That is the only way to make a change, although I hope for the sake of others that some sort of warning is issued for the other children and adults suffering.

          • Holly

            I agree! I don’t need studies to tell me that artificial dye is causing behavior issues in my kids. I can see it myself clear as day. Studies or not, ban or no ban, I will continue to keep artificial dyes out of my kids diets to the best of my ability because I can see how it affects them. I can tell when they have had dye from school or something, even before I find out for certain that they did, just by observing their behavior. I don’t need “official” evidence when I have enough evidence in my own experiences.

  • Evab

    Noticed at the store this week that childrens medicines are full of artificial colors and flavors too. I found a Walgreens brand labeled “dye-free” as well as a purportedly natural product by a brand called Similasan, but it took a while to hunt them down. Hopefully changes in the food industry will spillover to pharma. Seems so unnecessary to have these additives in everything.

  • Lauren Slayton

    We posted about this too. Aside from “better” versions in other countries the colorless or beige foods with colors was surprising. Here is out post http://foodtrainers.blogspot.com/2011/03/color-me-carcinogenic.html

  • nhjenn71

    IT worked with high fructose corn syrup- enough people were educated on the facts of the ingredient, and then chose NOT to buy products with that ingredient, slowly but surely I noticed that products I refused to buy a year ago were now advertising “No HFCS”.
    When the people speak, or more accurately, DONT spend, it makes a difference.
    It all comes down to knowing what we put into our bodies, if its harmful, find an alternative product.

    • Jim Cooper

      Of course HFCS is harmless and biochemically identical to table sugar

  • Jim Cooper

    The evidence for hyperactivity caused by food dyes is not very strong. If you read the actual papers, the effect is quite small and the spread is very wide. It is probably not a major cause. See

  • Teresa

    Does Canada allow for the same bars that United States allow or do we have better standards?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Parsley/100000804229385 Chris Parsley

    To think that ingesting a petroleum product will not cause adverse reaction over time is ridiculous. Anyone would be hard pressed to find a regular food on the market that does not contain some sort of food dye. It is in everything we eat. It is said that an average human being eats about 11 pounds of toxic chemicals each year and we wonder why ADD, ADHD, Bipolar and Cancer are growing at an alarming rate. There is absolutely no reason to add a petroleum product (food coloring) to anything we eat. The only reason the manufacturers do it is strictly marketing related.  They have performed studies that show the human brain perceives bright colors like we see in nature, apples, grapes, oranges, tomatoes as good for our bodies. Therefore if they add color to it and make it brighter, human instinct kicks in and our brains crave it. In reality we are slowly killing ourselves and our children.
    I absolutely hate when I read articles that state there are no studies that show food coloring is harmful. That is just the FDA’s way of saying the lobbyist have more power than you do. I have a child that began to act out with aggression and behaviors that were not natural, nor logical. We struggled for years as he was kicked out of daycare after daycare. As a last resort we took him to a doctor who diagnosed him as bipolar and put him on medication. We hated this but at the time; it was all we could do. We did not want him to hurt himself or anyone else. At one point he jumped out of a car at stoplight on a busy street because we passed a toy store and he was mad that we did not go there. After he was placed on medication, his issues lessened but did not go away completely. After about a year on the medication, he went through about a three week period where he slid back into the uncontrollable personality that he had been before the medication. I began to look at what had changed. I realized that a family member had given us a case of the little orange cheese crackers and a case of a well known ranch flavored potato chips (I don’t want to mention names). Our kids at these standard US snacks at the rate of about 5 or six packages a day during those three weeks. I began to put two and two together and realized the common denominator was food coloring. We removed all foods with artificial food coloring, which by the way was not as easy as it sounds, and within a few days our child was calmed, sweet, and caring again. The few times he had a meltdown was directly related to a food with dye in it. One time we could not figure out why he was acting out, all he had was pizza. Then I found out there is yellow dye in pizza crust. Why you might ask? So it looks pretty and your brain tells you it is healthy food.  At this point we have backed his medication down to the lowest dosage and over the summer we plan to completely take him off the medication. Without food dye in his system we have seen an amazing turn around in his personality. It is like night and day. If he get any food dye we see aggression within about thirty to forty minutes after he ate the food coloring.  I wish the FDA would call me. I could shoe them in just a few sessions what type of affect this has on our child.
    I find it amazing as I look around and kids are cramming cupcakes with bright blue frosting in their mouths at alarming rates, while the parents stand there and say, “I don’t know why little Johnny is ADD. Where did I go wrong?” … Really? I challenge you to walk in your local convenience store and find an item without artificial dye and by the why “Carmel coloring” found in many products is not natural either, it just sounds like it is.
    Join us on FaceBook to ban food coloring today! http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/home.php?sk=group_212701462084640

    Wake up America! The FDA has to quite playing the lobbyist money game while our children are the pawns.

    • Jim Cooper

      This is what is called “anecdotal evidence.” There are no double blind studies to prove your hypothesis. And the studies that have been done are by reputable scientists with no ties to the food industry. Nevertheless, a review of these studies shows just about no evidence of hyperactivity in children feed placebos or food dye mixtures. 

      Sorry about the science and your child’s problems and glad you have come to a solution that works for you.