Industry rejects call for food colorings ban

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food coloring E number Food and drug administration

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) called for a ban on food colorings last week – but food industry experts insist there is overwhelming evidence of their safety.

CSPI issued a report on food colorings, including three of the most widely used – Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 – saying that they are known carcinogens and can cause allergic reactions.

CSPI executive director and co-author of the report Michael Jacobson said: “These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody. The Food and Drug Administration should ban dyes, which would force industry to color foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals.”

The FDA had not read the report but a spokesperson told “FDA appreciates the report from CSPI and looks forward to reviewing it. We take our commitment to protecting the public health seriously."

Meanwhile, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement: “The safety of both artificial and natural colors has been affirmed through extensive review by the main global food safety bodies, including the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority.

“Both the FDA and the food and beverage industry continually monitor any new research or data in this area to determine if a change in current policy is warranted. It is important for consumers and policymakers to know that food dyes are widely studied and that the overwhelming majority of scientific evidence confirms the safety of artificial food colors."

The National Confectioners Association (NCA) also responded to the CSPI report, noting that it does not present any new scientific research.

“CSPI notes that the current science poses insufficient evidence to prove a causal connection between colors and safety risks and indicates a need for further research,”​ NCA said. “The fact is that colors are an important component of confections providing distinguishing characteristics, flavor recognition and appeal. All certified colors used in food production in the US meet stringent FDA requirements and are safe for human consumption.”

Controversy over the use of artificial food dyes gained momentum with publication of the notorious Southampton study in September 2007. The research, published in British medical journal The Lancet, looked at the effects of mixes of additives on 297 children aged three to nine, and concluded that synthetic food colors and additives had a “mild but significant” ​link to hyperactive behavior in children at least up to middle childhood.

The study has been the subject of criticism, however, largely because the children who took part in the trial were given cocktails of additives, making it impossible to ascertain which were responsible for the perceived hyperactivity effect.