Commonly used synthetic food dyes, such as Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, and Red No. 40, pose risks including hyperactivity and other behavior problems in children. Some, like Red No. 3, also pose a risk of cancer, and some, like Yellow No. 5, cause allergic reactions such as hives or itching in some children.
For decades, CSPI has worked to reduce exposures to synthetic dyes in children, given the link with hyperactivity and related behavioral problems. In 2008, CSPI petitioned the FDA to ban the use of synthetic food dyes.
In 2021, CSPI’s concerns about synthetic food dyes were confirmed by a comprehensive report published by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).
The report found that consumption of synthetic food dyes can cause or worsen neurobehavioral problems, such as hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and restlessness, in some children,6 and that current federal levels for safe intake of synthetic food dyes may not sufficiently protect children.
In Europe, foods with certain synthetic dyes including Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, and Red No. 40, must carry a warning label stating that the dyes: “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Many food manufacturers that sell foods in Europe have chosen to reformulate their products to eliminate those dyes and thus avoid the label.
CSPI supports a California state bill introduced by Senator Wieckowski that would require a similar warning label.
See our resources below to learn more about synthetic dyes, how to avoid them, and how to help us prevent the harm caused by dyes in our food system.