{food for thought} FDA Votes 8 to 6 In Favor of Food Dye

April 2, 2011


On Facebook the other day, I asked: Honestly, people. Do we really need to add petroleum based additives to our food to have some fun?

Apparently, the answer is why not?!

That’s right, in sad food news, after two days of deliberation with an advisory panel, the FDA voted 8 to 6 in favor of synthetic food dyes.

While the FDA acknowledged…

that artificial food dyes may exacerbate symptoms for some children with ADHD, they concluded that there is no clear indication of a causal relationship between food dyes and behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity, in children.

No “clear indication” of a “causal” relationship. Having done quite a bit of research myself and having interpreted even more, I can tell you that “clearly indicating” a “causal” relationship (ie, being able to say: we can definitely say that A is the reason why B happens) is a very difficult thing to do. In this case, it probably also means that there is no “clear indication” that there is definitely no “causal” relationship.

Clearly, I can’t help but be suspicious. The decision in Europe to impose a voluntary ban on many artificial food dyes and require labels on foods with dyes is based on research evidence. So what research was the EU using?! And how is it so different from ours?

And, was it taken into consideration that banning and labeling in Europe triggered a nearly industry wide shift to natural food dyes? If there’s any question about food dyes at all (does acknowledgment that food dyes may exacerbate ADHD symptoms count as question?!), shouldn’t the FDA err on the side of consumer protection, especially when can shift an entire industry towards healthier ingredients?


I’d love to know more. Perhaps details will trickle out over the coming weeks and days. If it does, I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, check those labels! Food dyes are found in unexpected places. You know the blue color of some of those blue corn tortillas? Let’s just say it doesn’t come from the corn. Or, even better: guess how farm raised salmon gets its pink hue? That’s right friends, many farm raised salmon are fed artificial color. Be aware. Eat natural.

Oh… one more thing… anyone who thinks I’m a party pooper for not being into “fun” colored foods should check out India Tree‘s extensive line of all natural food colors and baking supplies. Many of their products are available through Amazon, as I’m sure are other natural food color brands.

(breaking news via Fooducate)
Photo: iStockPhoto/sritenou

17 Responses

  1. Siouxzy says:

    Sometimes I think I should just move to Europe.

  2. Ugh, this is so discouraging. But I can’t say that I am surprised. I don’t allow Kiddo to eat food dyes except when he is at a someone else’s birthday party, however I recently found out that the snacks the snacks in his after school program had food dye in them!

  3. One Hungry Mama says:

    i know. it is discouraging, but at least we’re aware and know what to look for. right? it’s true that our kids are going to encounter food coloring at events like birthday parties and i also let that stuff slide. if you ask me, otherwise you’d go nuts! i even got wrapped up in these amazing cookie favors for the Hungry Boy’s birthday this year. They were *the* perfect favor (more on the party soon!). If I’d stopped and given it thought — other than how cute and perfect they were for our theme — I would have realized that they had a bunch of food dye. It didn’t even click for me until after the party, as I watched the HB’s fingers turn red as he ate his. Oops. (And I think about this stuff all the time and never use food coloring at home!)

    That said, food dyes in the snacks regularly served at a school or preschool program strikes me as really too bad. Any chance you can talk to them about it?

    And, yes, Siouxzy: I often think the same thing!

  4. Michelle BB says:

    This is really disappointing. It worries me for the children of parents who aren’t as exposed to the information of what is potentially harmful.

    If your interested a good book talking about the differences in regulating toxic materials in the US versus Europe is Exposed by Mark Shapiro.

  5. One Hungry Mama says:

    i agree, michelle, that it’s scary for those who don’t have the information to make informed choices. that’s why we rely on agencies like the FDA in the first place, right? to help educate and protect consumers, right? yea… not so much. i suppose moms like us who have a platform to talk about this stuff need to help spread the word, right?

    Thanks for the lead on the book — sounds great! Can’t wait to take a look.

  6. Marcia Van Drunen says:

    “The decision in Europe to ban most artificial food dyes and clearly label foods with dyes that are still legal is based on research evidence.”
    Can you tell me where this is published, I mean the original ban? I want it to be true, but most blogs simply make this statement and I’m not sure how to back up my arguments when I can’t prove it. Thanks.

  7. Marcia Van Drunen says:

    I now see the “Exposed” book in a previous comment. I can look into that, but my original inquiry still stands 🙂 Thanks!

  8. One Hungry Mama says:

    Hi Marcia—thanks for writing. As someone with a research background, I appreciate you wanting to see sources, which, in blog writing, can be tricky (I’d be happy to explain why, but I won’t bore you with that now!). But that, of course, makes info published on blogs tricky. Verifying facts that aren’t sources is super smart.

    You can see here (and many other places via a simple Google search; this way you can select sources that you trust) that there is a voluntary ban in the UK on 6 colors and a requirement to label:
    * http://blog.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/2010/06/30/artificial-colors-are-they-safe/
    * http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/food-agency-calls-for-ban-on-six-artificial-colours-807806.html
    * http://www.foodmagazine.org.uk/press/warning_labels/

    To this point, you’ve made me realize that my post was misleading by not clearly indicating that the ban is voluntary. Now corrected.

    Also, I think it’s important to note that despite this adjustment, it’s widely accepted that the U.S. is behind the EU in regulating artificial food coloring that by research conducted in both the US and Europe shows has been shown to have correlation to negative health effects. One last point, as made in this Treehuggger post, http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/7-foods-banned-in-europe-still-available-in-the-us.html, it is typical that widespread change in Europe begins with one country making legal/policy headway.

    Hope this helps clarify.

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