Many of the foods that we eat are bright and colorful because of artificial dyes and, for the time being, it's likely to stay that way.
A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recently recommended that the agency further study the link between food coloring and childhood hyperactivity but said products that contain the dyes do not need package warnings.
The decision came after a series of meetings held in response to a 2008 petition filed by the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest to ban Yellow 5, Red 40 and six other dyes.
ERIN O'NEILL The Marietta Times
Children at Pioneer Preschool snack on crackers and sip grape drink from cups donated by Wendy's while playing a game with Phyllis Miner Thursday.
Michael Jacobson, the director of that group, said after the vote that he is disappointed that members of the panel were looking for perfect scientific evidence that the link exists. But he said he is pleased that the FDA is acknowledging that food coloring may affect hyperactivity in some children.
"It's a big change from a year ago," he said. "At least this hearing gave recognition to the fact there's a real issue here and I hope a lot of parents will buy foods without dyes."
Kevin Tidd, longtime employee and manager of Mother Earth Foods in Parkersburg said he is disappointed with the decision but not surprised.
What Is a color additive?
Color additives are used in foods for many reasons:
- To offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions
- To correct natural variations in color
- To enhance colors that occur naturally
- To provide color to colorless and "fun" foods. Without color additives, colas wouldn't be brown, margarine wouldn't be yellow and mint ice cream wouldn't be green. Color additives are now recognized as an important part of practically all processed foods we eat.
By the numbers
There are nine certified color additives approved for use in the
United States: FD&C Blue Nos. 1 and 2, FD&C Green No. 3, FD&C Red Nos. 3 and 40, FD&C Yellow Nos. 5 and 6, Orange B and Citrus Red No. 2.
Food can be colored without artificial coloring by using fruits, vegetables, seeds, flowers and a number of other things including:
- Annatto seed
- Chlorella algae
- Black tea
Source: Times research
"I feel like (the FDA) don't police the industry like they should," he said. "There is so much data out there showing the links (between food dyes and hyperactivity) ... but it comes down to the lobbyists."
Tidd, a father of four children, one of whom suffers from food allergies, said that consumers should be proactive and become educated about what they are putting in their bodies if the FDA isn't going to require warnings.
"I would think most reputable food companies would voluntarily add warning labels because they care about their customers," he said. "But consumers should research the ingredients. It's a toxic world already, why add extra stuff from foods?"
A frightening episode a few years ago with her oldest child prompted Christine Marasco of Marietta to take a long, hard look at the foods in her kitchen.
"This was not my child- he was violent and lashing out. It was so uncharacteristic of him," she said.
Her son, who was four or five at the time, had attended art camp earlier that day and the children were allowed to eat some of the red and blue icing that they had been experimenting with.
"When I found that out, I knew that it was the food coloring (that caused the behavior)," said Marasco, who had a family member who had reactions to Red 40.
Marasco discovered that Red 40 was in many of the foods she had around the house, including mac and cheese, ice tea mix, yogurt and fruit snacks.
"We are conscious and aware. But we're also human. We will eat a Big Mac sometimes," she said, adding that since trying to eliminate artificial dyes from her childrens' diets, her son hasn't had another episode.
Tidd suggested that if a parent suspects a food dye might be causing hyperactivity or behavior problems in children, the parents might want to have an allergy test performed and cut out the food that is suspected of causing the issue. He also suggests using dyes or colorings found naturally in some foods, seeds or other items.
"It's basic psychology that colorful foods attract us to want to eat them but you can use things like beets, berries or annatto (a seed from the achiote tree), and many of these have other beneficial properties," Tidd said.
Some companies have reduced the use of dyes in food sold in Europe due to public concerns about hyperactivity there while keeping them in U.S. foods. Jacobson said he hopes increased awareness will force some of those companies to use less dye in the United States.
Parents who testified at the hearing said they are convinced there is a link between food coloring and their childrens' behavior. The mother of a 7-year-old boy who has struggled with hyperactivity showed off his improved report card and said eliminating food dyes from his diet was "life changing." She and other mothers urged the panel to recommend warning labels.
"That warning would do enough so at least somebody may say 'Gosh, that's the problem,'" said Renee Shutters, who came to the meeting from Jamestown, N. Y. She said ridding her son Trenton's diet of food colors helped make him a model student.
Representatives of food coloring makers and the food industry urged the agency to hold off, telling the panel Thursday that they don't believe the science is conclusive.
Most members of the panel agreed that the science isn't conclusive and said that more studies need to be done. All but one voted to recommend that the FDA further study the issue.