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Pressure mounts for removal of artificial colors

By Sarah Hills , 22-Aug-2008

Manufacturers in the US need to take responsibility when it comes to food coloring and replace controversial artificial dyes with natural alternatives, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Companies are selling products in America which contain synthetic colors which studies have linked to behavior problems in children, yet in Europe the very same products are being sold with natural colors instead, the watchdog claimed.

Now it is time for firms in the US to voluntarily remove these artificial dyes, said CSPI executive director Michael F Jacobson.

The CSPI is also rallying consumers and calling on parents to back its campaign for the dyes to be taken out of foods, especially those consumed by children. And it wants to hear from parents who believe that they have impaired their children’s behavior.

The dyes are already being phased out in European countries and the CSPI believes the US should follow suit.

Earlier this year the watchdog petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to ban Yellow 5 and 6, Red 3 and 40, Blue 1 and 2, Green 3, and Orange B. It also asked the FDA to require a warning label on foods containing these dyes while a ban is considered.

CSPI executive director Michael F Jacobson said: “Considering the problems that have been demonstrated with these dyes, along with the fact that they are easily replaced with natural colorings, it’s sad that the FDA is doing nothing to get them out of food.

“The food industry won’t fix its American foods until the FDA tells them to.

“Unfortunately, the FDA asserts, on the basis of its misreading of a 25-year-old report, that there is ‘no evidence’ that dyes affect behavior.”

It said that most multinational food companies are already phasing those dyes out of foods in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, even though American versions continue to get their colors from synthetic dyes.

The CSPI gave the example of the syrup in a strawberry sundae from McDonald’s in the UK which gets its red color from strawberries, whereas in the US, the red color comes from the chemical Red 40.

Similarly, a Betty Crocker yellow cake mix is colored with Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 in the US, but in Britain it is made with natural colorings.

Jacobson said: “If companies like Mars, Kellogg, and McDonald’s were responsible, they would immediately begin switching to safe, natural colorings in the United States.”

Action in Europe

Meanwhile regulation in Europe is tightening following the Southampton study, which was published last September in The Lancet. This found that a concoction of artificial colors led to hyperactivity in children.

Now the European Parliament has adopted a legislative package that is expected to see products containing any of six artificial colors come with the health warning, “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reviewed the Southampton study and was of the opinion that there is no evidence to change acceptable daily intakes (ADIs).

However it is currently in the process of reviewing scientific evidence on the safety of all colorings. This would include those in the Southampton study and also all natural colors that have been approved.

EFSA is the commission’s independent risk assessor but the legislative body is under no obligation to act in accordance with its opinions.

Betty Crocker (General Mills), Mars, Kellogg, and McDonald’s were unavailable for immediate comment prior to publication.

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