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Dr. Gregory Pais, ND
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The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban food dyes related to behavioral problems. Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, and Yellow 6 are the widely used artificial colorings that have been linked to hyperactivity and behavioral problems in children. On June 3 CSPI formally petitioned the FDA to ban the dyes, several of which are already being phased out in the United Kingdom.

In the 1970s, a medical doctor named Benjamin Feingold reported that his patients improved when their diets were changed. Numerous scientific studies conducted over the next 30 years in the United States, Europe, and Australia have proved that children's behavior is worsened by artificial dyes, but the U.S. has done nothing to discourage their use by food manufacturers.

In 2004 a comprehensive analysis of the medical literature concluded that artificial dyes affect children's behavior, and two recent studies funded by the British government found that dyes (as well as the preservative sodium benzoate) adversely affect kids' behavior. As a result, the British government is successfully pressuring food manufacturers to switch to safer colorings.

"The continued use of these unnecessary artificial dyes is the secret shame of the food industry and the regulators who watch over it," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "The purpose of these chemicals is often to mask the absence of real food, to increase the appeal of a low-nutrition product to children, or both. Who can tell the parents of kids with behavioral problems that this is truly worth the risk?"

In the United States exposure to artificial food dyes has risen sharply in the last half century. According to the FDA, the amount of food dye certified for use was 12 milligrams per person per day in 1955. In 2007, 59 mg per person per day, or nearly five times as much, was certified for use. Dyes are used in countless foods and are sometimes used to simulate the color of fruits or vegetables. Many processed foods use these chemicals to fool people into thinking that blueberries or avocados, for example, make up their processed equivalents.

Artificial dyes are particularly prevalent in the sugary cereals, candies, sodas, and snack foods pitched to kids. According to CSPI, General Mills' Fruit Roll-ups and Fruit-by-the-Foot flavored snacks get their fruity colors from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, and Blue 1. General Mills' Fruity Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Trix also contain several of the problematic dyes, as do Kellogg's Froot Loops and Apple Jacks and Post's Fruity Pebbles.

More than a dozen American varieties of Kraft's Oscar Meyer Lunchables kids' meals contain artificial food dyes. Starburst Chews, Skittles, and M&M candies-all Mars products-contain the full spectrum of artificial colors. Even foods that aren't particularly brightly colored can contain dyes, including several varieties of macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. Betty Crocker's Au Gratin "100% Real" Potatoes are partly not real, colored as they are with Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, both derived from coal tar. The color in McDonald's strawberry sauce for sundaes comes from Red 40.

"The science shows that kids' behavior improves when these artificial colorings are removed from their diets and worsens when they're added to the their diets," said Dr. David Schab, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center, who conducted the 2004 analysis with his colleague Dr. Nhi-Ha T. Trinh. "While not all children seem to be sensitive to these chemicals, it's hard to justify their continued use in foods-especially those foods heavily marketed to young children."

"Banning these synthetic chemicals is certainly a far less drastic step than putting so many children on Ritalin or other potentially dangerous and sometimes-abused prescription stimulants," said Jacobson. "The food industry has known about this problem for 30 years, yet few companies have switched to safer colorings. We hope today is the beginning of the end for Yellow 5, Red 40, and these other dubious dyes."

Remember, these dyes serve no nutritional purpose. They are marketing efforts to fool the consumer into buying a fake food, taste, or color. They are about money, not about nutrition or health. They have no place in real food.

The CSPI petition asks the FDA to require a warning label on foods with artificial dyes while it considers CSPI's request to ban the dyes outright. CSPI also wants the FDA to correct the information it presents to parents on its web site about the impact of artificial food dyes on behavior. Joining CSPI's call are 19 prominent psychiatrists, toxicologists, and pediatricians who co-signed a letter urging members of Congress to hold hearings on artificial food dyes and behavior, and to fund an Institute of Medicine research project on the issue.


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