Maryland Senators Debate Food Dye Prohibitions


Lobbyists for Safeway, Grocery Manufacturers Defend Yellow 5, Red 40, & Other Behavior-Altering Dyes

February 13, 2009

Food industry lobbyists descended on Annapolis, Md., this week to keep Yellow 5, Red 40, and other synthetic dyes in foods sold in the state's schools, child care facilities, and elsewhere despite the strong evidence linking the dyes to hyperactivity and behavior problems in some children.

Two Senate committees heard testimony from parents who support separate measures by State Senator Norman Stone (D-Baltimore County), one of which would prohibit the use of the controversial chemicals in school foods, while another would require warning labels on all synthetically dyed foods sold in the state until 2012, after which they would be phased out altogether.

The first-ever hearings are a harbinger of increased pressure on companies to switch to safer colorings. Already, the British government has told companies to stop using most synthetic dyes by the end of the year, and the European Parliament passed a law that will require a warning label on artificially dyed foods next year. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that artificial food dyes might make hyperactivity worse.

Two Maryland bills are aimed at protecting children from the behavior-altering effects of artificial food dyes. Photo credit: Moira Donahue.

Last June, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6. Several of those are made from coal tar.

"I am here today because my son Anthony has a sensitivity to artificial food dyes that has serious negative effects on his behavior," testified Christine Jozwick, an Annapolis resident who works administrative director at a law firm. "Every time his behavior gets out of control, I always find out that he ate something with artificial food dye. I worry every day that he is in school because you never know what he will eat, and I am always nervous of an outburst."

Like Jozwick, many parents who put their children on diets that screen out food dyes report fewer tantrums, more focused school work, and other welcome changes in their kids.

As several parents looked on aghast, lobbyists for Safeway, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, and the Maryland Restaurant Association coldly testified in favor of the artificial dyes' continued use, and summarily dismissed all of the studies that demonstrate a problem with the chemicals.

Melvyn Thompson, a lobbyist from the restaurant industry group, said the state of Maryland shouldn't second-guess the decisions of the FDA.

"That's an unlikely position for the restaurant industry to take, considering how they panic when the FDA does express concern about their products," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "But the FDA is undergoing a very public meltdown over its failure to ensure the safety of peanut butter, produce, and many prescription drugs. I'm glad Senator Stone does want to second-guess the FDA, because he is right and the FDA is wrong."

 

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