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FDA Advisory Panel to Review Artificial Colors in Food


Food producers use artificial colors and flavors to improve the appearance and taste of many foods. However, some studies link the ingredients to adverse health effects, particularly attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. An FDA Advisory Panel has convened to review the safety of the food chemicals and decide whether their use should be restricted.

Artificial Colorings Linked to ADHD in Children

The eight dyes under review are FD&C Blue 1 and 2; FD&C Green 3, Orange B, FD&C Red 3, FD&C Red 40, FD&C Yellow 5 and 6.

The use of artificial dyes in foods has increased 50% since 1990. While some foods are more obvious with added food coloring (ie: children’s cereals, candy), the use of artificial colors is increasing in seemingly unusual food such as pickles, bagels, cheese, beverages, and fruit. The Washington Post notes that even some dog foods have added color.

“There are sometimes nine different dyes in a food product,” said Laura Anderko of Georgetown University Medical Center, who serves on the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee for the Environmental Protection Agency. “Moms and dads will say, ‘Here’s a fruit roll-up — that must be healthy.’ But it’s filled with dyes. And emerging science suggests it’s a harm to children.”

Read: Children Plus Pesticides Don't Mix, Lead to ADHD

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Two recent studies have found that children given foods made with certain artificial colorings and preservatives show an increase in hyperactivity. The studies prompted the British government to stop using six dyes in 2010 and required foods containing other artificial colorings to carry a warning label that products “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Certain colorings have also been linked to cancer. In 1990, the FDA banned Red No. 3 in cosmetics, medicines, and other products because it was a suspected carcinogen. However, its use continues to be permitted in foods.

European food makers have replaced the artificial dyes with natural ones made from fruits and vegetables, such as beet juice and carrots to replace Red No. 40. “People get used to a slightly different color,” says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest which has petitioned the FDA to ban artificial dyes.

Read: Restricted Elimination Diet Could Help ADHD Symptoms in Children

Although many food companies in the US maintain that artificial food colorings are safe and well regulated by the FDA, some are making the switch to natural colorings due to consumer demand for healthier food. Frito-Lay is among those, announcing the decision to remove artificial colors and flavors in more than 60 of its snack products.

Update: On March 31st, the FDA’s Food Advisory Committee voted 11-3 that there is not enough evidence at this time to conclude that artificial dyes and food colorings contribute to hyperactivity in children. In a separate vote, the panel voted 8 to 6 against recommending a warning label for foods that contain artificial colors. The panel, however, did not rule out the possibility that colorings added to snacks, cereals, beverages, candy and other foods may have negative behavioral effects on children and greed that more studies are needed.