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FDA investigating whether synthetic food dyes affect children’s behavior

By Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

Synthetic food dyes should be banned and warnings need to be placed on products containing the dyes until the colors are removed. That’s the position of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

FDA hearing

Fda Logo In response to a letter from the center, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a public hearing at the Hilton Hotel in Silver Spring, Md., on March 30 and 31on the possible adverse effects that synthetic food dyes have on children’s behavior.
Among those testifying will be consumer groups, scientists, manufacturers, and the Feingold Association, which helps special needs children.
Jane Hersey, the association’s national director, would like the hearing to be the first step in banning of these additives from the American food supply.
“It is time for the FDA to finally recognize what many parents have known for decades – that eating petroleum-based food dyes can make children hyperactive and inattentive,” Hersey, whose own daughter’s behavior was affected by these additives, said in a statement. “The FDA should ban these dyes and require warning labels in the meantime.”

Requirements in the European Union

The European Union requires labels on most foods containing synthetic food dyes to warn that these additives “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Britain’s Food Standards Agency has also called on manufacturers to voluntarily remove the dyes and has advised parents to limit their children’s consumption of dyed foods if they show signs of ADHD.

What physicians' groups think

In the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in journal article that “a trial of a preservative-free, food coloring-free diet is a reasonable intervention” for hyperactive children. On its website, the American Academy of Family Physicians states: “Studies have shown that certain food colorings and preservatives may cause or worsen hyperactive behavior in some children.” 

Millions of pounds of synthetic dyes eaten each year

Per capita consumption of synthetic food dyes – which are found in candy, cereals, sports drinks, cookies, and other processed foods targeted at children – has increased five-fold since 1955. Since then, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD increased from 150,000 in 1970 to 5.4 million by 2007.
“It is no coincidence that the levels of ADHD have skyrocketed as children consume more and more of these chemicals,” said Hersey. “Children’s foods do not need to be colored with synthetic dyes, since manufacturers can substitute safe natural colorings, such as those made from fruits, vegetables, and minerals” she said.

Some companies going natural
A few companies, such as Starbucks and NECCO, have begun to switch from synthetic dyes to natural ones in some products, while Frito-Lay is testing dye-free snack foods, Hersey said.

Copyright 2011, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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