More than 15 million pounds of dyes are used in processed food each year–a five-fold increase over 1955 levels–in spite of research that has linked the dyes with hyperactivity and other behavioral issues in children, as well as increasing the risk for certain types of cancer. Two moms, health and wellness experts Erica Reid and Latham Thomas, recently partnered with Healthy Child Healthy World to petition Kellogg’s to take artificial food dyes out of the brand’s fruit snacks. The petition has more than 75,000 signatures so far, with a goal of at least 100,000.
Some of the most common dyes used in foods in the U.S. include Red #40, Blue #1 and Yellow #5–all of which are found in the Kellogg’s fruit snacks. The dyes provide no added nutritional value; they simply make the snacks (as well as brightly colored cereals, candies and sodas) more marketable to consumers–particularly children.
The dyes contain known carcinogens that the FDA regulates since safe dye consumption levels were determined in 1990. Unfortunately, U.S. dye-consumption has increased by 50 percent since 1990, despite the rise in reactions to the dyes among sensitive children.
In Europe, some dyes were banned in 2010 and labels have been required on all foods that contain chemical dyes stating that the product “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Since labeling began, food dye usage has declined in major products sold in Europe. For example, McDonalds’ Europe strawberry sundae is now dyed red with strawberries. The same product in the U.S. is dyed with Red #40. Similarly, Orange Fanta sold in Britain is dyed with pumpkin and carrot extract, while it’s dyed with Red #40 and Yellow #5 in the U.S.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has urged several major multinational companies that do not use chemical dyes in Europe to do the same in the United States. Most of those companies replied that they will continue to use chemical dyes in the U.S. until they are ordered to cease by the government or until consumer demand slows the sale of chemically-dyed foods. CSPI also recently petitioned the FDA to ban certain food dyes. In 2011, the FDA voted 11-3 to deny the ban.
The ability of companies to use various natural dyes is clear–Starbucks and NECCO Wafers have both eliminated chemical dyes and Frito-Lay plans to phase out chemical dyes as well in U.S. products. Yet, without regulations in the U.S. to prevent chemical dye use, many companies continue to use lower cost chemical dyes. In addition to being cheaper than natural food dyes, chemicals are more stable color providers than natural dyes, making them more ideal for inudstrial food manufacturing.
If you believe your children are sensitive to food dyes, the CSPI asks that you file a report at www.cspinet.org/fooddyes. A list of more than a thousand foods made with dyes is also at that Web site. The only sure way to avoid these dyes currently is to buy organic products, which, if using dyes at all, use only all-natural dyes.