The dyes at issue--Yellow 5 and 6, Red 40 and 3, Blue 1 and 2, Green 3 and Orange B--are particularly prevalent in sugary cereals, candies, sodas and snack foods, according to CSPI, a nonprofit advocate for food nutrition and safety.
CSPI asked the FDA to require a warning label on foods with artificial dyes while it considers CSPI's request to ban the dyes outright. The organization also wants the FDA, which has maintained that research shows the dyes are not harmful to most people, to correct the information about food dyes and behavior currently on the FDA Web site (see below).
At the same time, a letter co-signed by 19 psychiatrists, toxicologists and pediatricians was sent to Congress, endorsing CSPI's stance and asking Congress to hold hearings on artificial food dyes and behavior, as well as fund an Institute of Medicine research project on the issue.
CSPI argues that numerous controlled studies conducted since the '70s in the United States, Europe and Australia have proven that some children's behavior is worsened by ingesting artificial dyes. Among others, it cites a comprehensive 2004 meta-analysis of the medical literature by two Columbia University Medical Center psychiatrists, and two recent studies funded by the British government. The British government is now "successfully pressuring food manufacturers to switch to safer colorings," but the U.S. government has allowed Americans' exposure to artificial dyes to rise "sharply" over the years, CSPI says. As of 2007, 59 mg per capita of such dyes were certified for use by the FDA--five times the 12 milligrams per day certified for use back in 1955, the organization reports.
According to CSPI, British versions of some U.S. manufacturers' products use natural flavorings, while U.S. versions continue to use dyes. Products cited include Kraft's Oscar Meyer Lunchables kids' meals and Mars's Starburst Chews, Skittles and M&M candies.
CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson termed unnecessary use of artificial dyes "the secret shame of the food industry and the regulators who watch over it," adding: "Who can tell the parents of kids with behavioral problems that this is truly worth the risk?"
Jacobson told Marketing Daily that CSPI urged the FDA to research the issue nine years ago, with no results. He pointed to the meta-analysis and the British scenario as particularly compelling reasons for asking the FDA to revisit the issue at this time. Other products specifically cited by CSPI as containing the dyes include General Mills's Fruit Roll-ups, Fruit-by-the-Foot flavored snacks, Fruity Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Trix and Betty Crocker's Au Gratin 100% Real Potatoes; Kellogg's' Froot Loops and Apple Jacks; Post's Fruity Pebbles; Kraft's Guacamole Dip and Pinnacle Foods Group's Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles.
Kraft spokesperson Michael Mitchell sent a statement to Marketing Daily stressing that Kraft's highest priority is the safety and quality of its products and consumers, and that all of the food colors it uses are approved and deemed safe by regulatory agencies, including the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). "We realize there are some consumers who prefer products made without artificial ingredients, so we're providing them with brands such as Back to Nature" and developing new products that address attributes important to consumers, he added. "Furthermore, all of our foods are clearly labeled. Consumers who wish to avoid certain ingredients, including food colors, can do so by checking the labels."
The FDA's site contains a 2004 brochure that provides a response to the question, "Do additives cause childhood hyperactivity?" Here is the main thrust:
"No. Although this hypothesis was popularized in the 1970s, well-controlled studies conducted since then have produced no evidence that food additives cause hyperactivity or learning disabilities in children. A Consensus Development Panel of the National Institutes of Health concluded in 1982 that there was no scientific evidence to support the claim that additives or colorings cause hyperactivity. However, for some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and confirmed food allergy, dietary modification has produced some improvement in behavior. The panel said that elimination diets should not be used universally to treat childhood hyperactivity, since there is no scientific evidence to predict which children may benefit."
The Associated Press quoted an FDA spokesperson, Julie Zawisza, as saying on Tuesday that color additives undergo safety reviews and testing prior to approval, and that the agency's review of one of the studies cited by CSPI did not provide a reason to change the FDA's conclusion that the dyes are safe for the general population. She also noted that the EFSA takes a stance similar to the FDA's.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) released a response from its chief science officer, Robert Brackett, stating: "The safety of food dyes has been affirmed through extensive review by the [FDA] (via the food additive review process) and the EFSA and neither agency recommends a change to current policy. In addition, U.S. and international scientific reviews have determined that there is no demonstrable link between food dyes and hyperactivity among children.
"To date, the overwhelming majority of scientific evidence confirms the safety of certified food dyes and their lack of effect on behavior in children. As for the study cited in the petition filed by [CSPI], EFSA reviewed the findings, noted considerable uncertainties, absence of clinical significance of behavior changes, and lack of discrete evaluation of individual colors or additives. EFSA concluded that the study did not support a change in current policy on the studied food colors and additives.
"Based on these findings, there is no need for consumers to alter their purchasing and eating habits and they and their children can safely enjoy food products containing these food colors."