Mars defends artificial dyes and says natural switch 'won't happen overnight'

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Mars considers natural options but defends artifical dyes. Photo credit: MeganLynnette
Mars considers natural options but defends artifical dyes. Photo credit: MeganLynnette

Related tags E number Food coloring

Mars says it is exploring natural alternatives but sees no safety concerns with artificial colors and flavors.

The company has come under pressure from consumer groups to remove artificial dyes in M&M’s in the US after Nestlé USA committed to no artificial dyes​ and Hershey announced a ‘simple ingredients’ policy​ last week.

Mars confident artificial dyes are safe

A Mars spokesperson told ConfectioneryNews the company was continuing to explore possibilities of using more naturally sourced colors in future and then referred us to a page on Mars’ website​ published on Thursday last week.

There it says: ” …Changing to naturally sourced colors is not a process that can happen overnight as it brings unique complexities and challenges.”

Mars has got the blues

Mars was instrumental in the FDA’s approval of natural blue spirulina in 2013 after it filed a petition to the authority. The company also filed a patent​ to make natural blue colors derived from anthocyanins  - compounds found in vegetables, fruits, and flower petals - resistant to color changes in hard panned confections.

“We want to make clear that we have absolute confidence in the safety of all the ingredients that we use, no matter where our products are sold around the world.” ​ The company said that all the colors it used complied with regulations.

The Southampton Six: Unsafe or wrongly accused?

Certain artificial colors – the so called Southampton Six – were linked to hyperactivity in children in a 2007 study by the University of Southampton.​ The study was funded by the UK’s Food Standards Agency.

However, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have since declared the Southampton colors safe.

In 2011, an FDA committee voted 11 to three that there was insufficient evidence tying the Southampton colors to hyperactivity in children.

The Southampton Six

  • sunset yellow FCF (E110)
  • quinoline yellow (E104)
  • carmoisine (E122)
  • allura red (E129)
  • tartrazine (E102)
  • ponceau 4R (E124)

EFSA said in a 2008 assessment that the Southampton study “provided limited evidence that the mixtures of additives tested had a small effect on the activity and attention of some children".​ It said in 2008 that there was no reason to revise acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) for the colors, but called for safety tests in 2013​ in light of new scientific data.

The organization has so far evaluated two of the six colors. It said last week that allura red was safe​ and saw no reason to change the ADI. In July last year, it said sunset yellow was also safe​ and even upped the ADI. It continues to assess the other four colors.

M&M’s colors

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) last week​ called on Mars to remove artificial colors linked to child hyperactivity in its M&M’s brand. A petition from the nonprofit has so far collected around 167,000 signatures.

Mars has removed these dyes for M&M’s in Europe, but the brand contains Yellow 5 (tartrazine), Yellow 6 (sunset yellow, and Red 40 (allura red) in the US.

CSPI also wants Mars to remove artificial dyes Blue 1 (Brilliant Blue) and Blue 2 (indigo carmine) in US M&M’s.

A 2013 study by Hojerová et al. ​said that brilliant blue and patent blue in hard candies and lollipops posed a health risk to children by disrupting cell metabolism. However, its findings were disputed by the International Association of Color Manufacturers (IACM).

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