By Courtney Brein, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow
Last week, the National Consumers League and a number of other concerned organizations sent letters to Members of Congress and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg urging them to follow the United Kingdom’s example and start protecting children from synthetic food dyes. Specifically, the letter to Congress encouraged members to support legislation that would ban the use of dyes in school foods; fund a study by the Institute of Medicine on the broader issue of diet and behavior; and press the FDA to respond to a petition calling for a ban on most dyes.
Despite the FDA’s stance that no evidence exists of a link between consumption of food dyes and hyperactivity in children, a collection of studies carried out over several decades – and, particularly, two sizeable British government-funded studies conducted more recently – demonstrates that the adverse effect of food dyes on some children’s behavior does in fact hold statistical significance. These findings led the British government to request that food manufacturers stop using the dyes implicated in the studies.
As a result, a number of manufacturers removed synthetic food dyes from their products, and companies including McDonald’s, Nestlé, Kraft, Mars, Haribou, and Kellogg now all sell products free of these dyes in the United Kingdom. The versions of the very same products that these companies sell in the United States, however, still contain artificial dyes. For example, the Fanta orange soda sold in Britain gains its color from carrot and pumpkin extract, while the version sold in the United States gets its orange hue from synthetic dye.
The actions of these manufacturers demonstrate that removing synthetic food dyes from the food supply is, in fact, possible but will not occur without government pressure. Starting this July, the European Union will require companies to put a warning label about the link between synthetic food dyes and impaired behavior in children on most products containing these dyes, a measure which will likely encourage companies to reformulate their products, much in the way that requirements about disclosing trans fat on nutrition facts panels led to widespread product reformulation in the United States.
It is the hope of the National Consumers League, as well as of our fellow advocates, that the United States will become the next country to recognize the deleterious effects that synthetic dyes can pose for our children and take measures to begin to remove them from the food supply.