Are Kids Going Loopy for Fruit Loops?

The FDA is meeting with a Food Advisory Committee today and tomorrow to discuss new evidence possibly linking artificial food coloring and behavioral problems in children.  Concerned experts hope that the FDA will require manufacturers of foods that contain artificial food coloring to add a warning label to their products.

Europe already requires a label on foods that contain artificial dyes warning parents that kids may become hyperactive if they consume the product.  In response to the European warning label requirement, many overseas companies have replaced artificial food coloring with natural coloring made from beets and tumeric.  The primary resistance to natural dyes is that they are more expensive, less stable and not always as brightly colored.

Fruit LoopsAfter the FDA’s advisory committee discussion concludes, the FDA may recommend further studies or warning labels for U.S. products but many experts speculate that the FDA will do nothing at all.  And if the analysis released prior to today’s meeting is any clue, it seems unlikely that the FDA will change their position that there is no conclusive proof that artificial food dyes cause hyperactivity or other behavioral disorders.

Some experts disagree with the FDA’s current position on artificial food coloring, including Andrew Adesman, MD, pediatrician and chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York:

“Some of the studies are difficult or imperfect in that they don’t always tease out specific chemicals in isolation.  But there is this body of literature that does suggest that food colorings are not as benign as people have been led to believe.”

M&M'sAlthough the FDA is not asking the panel of experts about a ban, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking the FDA to ban certain dyes including the three most widely used – Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6.  In a statement issued by CSPI, the executive diretor, Michael Jacobson says:

“The evidence that these petrochemicals worsen some children’s behavior is convincing, and I hope that the FDA’s advisory committee will advise the agency to both require warning notices and encourage companies voluntarily to switch to safer natural colorings…  Having brightly colored Fruit Loops, Skittles, Mountain Dews, or pickles or anything else just isn’t worth putting any children at risk.”

Synthetic food dyes are manufactured from petroleum, petrochemicals and coal tar.

DoritosRegardless of what the FDA decides tomorrow, consumers can vote with their dollars.  If you want to avoid artificial food coloring, read the ingredients of all products very carefully before you buy.  Some companies, like Frito-Lay, have begun to transition away from artificial colors and flavors and produce a wider range of products made with natural ingredients.

“We’re always looking for new ways to give consumers what they’re looking for, which includes providing a wider range of products made with natural ingredients, ” said Jeff Dahncke, a spokesman for PepsiCo.

Unfortunately Frito-Lay has no plans to replace the iridescent orange in Doritos or Cheetos.  Between the food coloring and MSG, neither of those products are permitted to set foot in our home.

What do you think about food dye regulations?  Do you think the FDA should step in or stay out?

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