This is something the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been flogging for a while but seems to be finally gaining traction. The Daily Green noted today that the state of Maryland may soon be the first state to require labeling on food items containing artificial colors with the possibility of banning them as soon as 2012. For the record, the colors in question are popular versions of blue, green, red, orange and yellow coloring. A veritable rainbow of poison.
What caught my attention were two things. First, the research documenting a connection between pediatric behavioral problems like ADHD and a raft of artificial food colors is well established both through meta-analysis of previous studies as well as through new studies designed specifically to test the hypothesis. Second, the UK has already effectively banned the stuff, which forced food companies to use what scientists refer to as "real food" to color their processed foodstuffs. The CSPI has the slightly nauseating details:
Indeed, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft and McDonalds all replaced the harmful dyes in their British products. Even Fanta now uses pumpkin and carrot extracts to color their soda orange in the UK. And you know what? The world didn't end. Nor did the companies go out of business. There's not even any indication that eliminating dyes caused price increases. In fact, no one really noticed, which begs the question of why the colors are used in the first place. We're running out of excuses, folks.
In Europe, regulators and industry have made considerable progress toward eliminating artificial dyes from food products, though American versions of the very same products continue to get their colors from synthetic dyes. For instance, the syrup in a strawberry sundae from a McDonald's in the U.K. gets its red color from strawberries; in the U.S., the red color comes from synthetic Red 40.
In the U.S., synthetic food dyes are common in brightly colored foods popular with children, including candies, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, and snack foods. Sometimes the sunny synthetic colors are designed to simulate fruits or vegetables, as in the case of a "Guacamole Dip" produced by Kraft, which gets its green color not from avocados but from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 1. The "artificially flavored blueberry bits" in Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles are blue thanks to Red 40 and Blue 2, not blueberries.
Thankfully, we can always rely on the medical community to come up with a doozy when required. How about this one from the NYT article on the dangers of food additives from last year. Expressing doubts about the risks vs benefits of banning these additives, a pediatric psychopharmacologist at Mass General Hospital asked, "Is [the effect] powerful enough that you want to ostracize your kid? It is very socially impacting if children can't eat the things that their friends do."
That's right. ADHD is bad and stuff. But no candy and soda? That's just outrageous! If this is the wisdom coming out of the medical profession, it's no wonder the FDA drags its feet. They're afraid they might bum us all out.
Photo by terren in Virginia used under a CC license