Artificial Food Dyes Linked to Dangerous Health Risks


Artificial food dyes are found in a variety of foods, from kids cereals and bright-colored candies to salad dressings and frozen dinners. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, American food producers add 15 million pounds of dyes into products which are responsible for allergies, ADHD and possibly cancer. The group is calling on the government to ban these dyes in commercial foods.

There are nine synthetic dyes approved for commercial use in food. Most of the food products that contain food dyes are marketed to children, which the CSPI says exposes them to unnecessary and dangerous health risks. Multiple studies link dyes to allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children.

The most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are suspected to cause cancer in high doses in rodents. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged by the FDA as a carcinogen, but remains in the food supply in foods such as Betty Crocker’s Fruit Roll-Ups and ConAgra’s Kid Cuisine frozen meals. The agency is also asking for a ban on Citrus Red 2, a coloring used on the skins of oranges.

The FDA has previously recommended the ban of food dyes due to potential health risks. In 1978, the agency proposed the elimination of Orange B, originally approved for coloring sausage casings, because it was found to be toxic to rats. Although not formally banned, the industry has not used Orange B in more than a decade.

“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 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.”


Natural colorings that can replace these synthetic food dyes include beet juice, beta-carotene, blueberry juice concentrate, carrot juice, grape skin extract, paprika, purple sweet potato or corn, red cabbage, and turmeric.

CPSI does acknowledge that the FDA has put regulations in place that mandate a stricter standard of safety for color additives, saying that there must be “convincing evidence that establishes with reasonable certainty that no harm will result from the intended use of the color additive.” However, they also state that studies conducted on food dyes have been of poor quality, and that more controlled studies need to be performed to ensure safety.

Overseas, some countries are limiting the use of artificial food dyes. The British government asked companies to phase out most dyes as of December 31, 2009 and on July 20th, the European Union is requiring a warning notice for most food products that contain dyes. The UK utilizes natural coloring in many foods, such as real strawberries in McDonald’s Strawberry Sundae, and pumpkin and carrot extract in Fanta orange soda.

The FDA has not read the report yet an agency spokesperson said. "We appreciate the report from CSPI and look forward to reviewing it. We take our commitment to protecting children seriously".

Food Dyes: Rainbow of Risks” was written by Sarah Kobylewski, a Ph.D. candidate in the Molecular Toxicology Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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