No clear and present danger from food dyes

After two days of testimony on dyes and how they cause some children to show signs of hyperactivity, an FDA advisory committee on Thursday voted 8 to 6 that there is no clear indication artificial dyes in foods cause hyperactivity or other behavioral problems in children. Although the Committee did not recommend a ban or further regulation of dye additives found in food products, it did add that enough uncertainly exists to warrant more studies.

According to the experts who testified, European companies already are dropping dyes including Blue #1, Yellow #5 and #6 and others and substituting natural colorings for them. But the U.S. still allows eight artificial dyes, including Citrus Red 2, Red 3, Red 40, Blue 1 & 2, Green 3 and Yellow 5 & 6, for aesthetic reasons, not taste. They can be found in numerous food products from cereal, fruit flavored snacks, cheese, juice and candy.


"Why are these dyes in these foods anyway?" asked critic Michael Jacobsen, executive director of the Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI), a watchdog group on nutrition and food safety. "I would push for having them taken out completely. But if that can't be done, why not warn the public and parents that these dyes could have some effects?"

Although numerous data have been collected on food dyes and hyperactivity in kids during the past decade, the design of the studies has been weak. Many were performed on small groups-no more than 25 children, and much of the observation data (how the child acted) was reported by parents and not by clinicians. In fact, most of the dyes tested were combined into a dye mixture and not tested individually.

The label is precious real estate that should be reserved for real public health warnings or nutrition information, according to a statement by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC). FDA must enforce labeling that is truthful and not misleading. A warning about a safe ingredient like food colors would be both false and misleading and, combined with other unnecessary warnings, could lead to consumers tuning out all warnings. In addition, our experience in communicating with consumers about food safety tells us that a warning statement on labels intended for a very small subset of the population could have the unintended consequence of confusing the general public about safe ingredients we consume every day.


Still, some consumers are skeptical and pressure on this front is sure to continue.