It’s used in everything from candy to soup to salad dressings to fruit roll-ups. Now a new report says that food coloring poses cancer risks, hyperactivity in kids, and allergies.
Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, the three most widely used dyes, have known carcinogens, according to a new report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the same group that is threatening to sue McDonald’s over Happy Meals. The Food and Drug Administration has previously acknowledged that the dye Red 3, is a carcinogen, yet it is still widely used.
“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,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, co-author of the 58-page report, “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks.” “The Food and Drug Administration should ban dyes, which would force industry to color foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals.”
Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have long been known to cause allergic reactions in some people. Reactions are rare, but they can be serious. Previous studies have shown that dyes cause hyperactivity in children.
Even more troubling, food dyes have been shown to cause cancer. In 1985, the acting commissioner of the FDA said that Red 3, one of the lesser-used dyes, “has clearly been shown to induce cancer” and was “of greatest public health concern.” Each year about 200,000 pounds of Red 3 are used in foods such as Fruit Roll-Ups.
“Dyes add no benefits whatsoever to foods, other than making them more ‘eye-catching’ to increase sales,” said James Huff, the associate director for chemical carcinogenesis at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ National Toxicology Program. “
In a letter, CSPI urged the FDA to ban all dyes. The British government has already asked companies to phase out most dyes by the end of 2009, and the European Union is requiring a warning notice on most dyed foods at the end of this month.
Europe is much more stringent as far as food regulations than the U.S. As a result, the British version of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets is healthier than the ones sold in the U.S.
The same is true with food dyes. For example, McDonald’s Strawberry Sundae in Britain is colored with strawberries, but in the United States, McDonald’s uses Red dye 40. I just came back from the supermarket with my kids. I checked the ingredients on all of the treats they wanted to buy and nearly all of them had food coloring in them.
“Food Rules” author Michael Pollan suggests eating a meal with a variety of colors, but food coloring doesn’t count.
Are you concerned about food coloring? Do you think it should be banned?