Parents Urged to Report Children's Reactions to Food Dyes

Watchdog Group Wants Ban on Yellow 5, Red 40, and Other Artificial Food Dyes Linked to Hyperactivity, Behavior Problems


WASHINGTON—The Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking America's parents for help in its campaign to convince the Food and Drug Administration that synthetic dyes, such as Yellow 5 and Red 40, don't belong in foods, especially those consumed by children. The dyes are being phased out in European countries because of important new evidence showing that the dyes, and perhaps the preservative sodium benzoate, cause hyperactivity and other behavior problems in children.

CSPI is urging parents who believe their children are harmed by food dyes to file reports online at The nonprofit nutrition and food-safety watchdog group will periodically forward the reports to the FDA, which denies that dyes cause any problem whatsoever. CSPI wants to hear from parents who believe that food dyes impair their children's behavior, as well as parents whose kids' behavior improved when food dyes were eliminated from their diets.

"Considering the problems that have been demonstrated with these dyes, along with the fact that they are easily replaced with natural colorings, it's sad that the FDA is doing nothing to get them out of food," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "Meanwhile, doctors are prescribing powerful drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to undo the damage being done, in part, by the increasingly unnatural food supply."

Consumption of food dyes has increased five-fold over the past 30 years, according to FDA data.

In the 1970s, scientists first realized that food dyes might cause behavioral problems when allergist Benjamin Feingold reported that many of his young patients improved when artificial food dyes, preservatives, and certain natural foods were removed from their diets. Many parents who put their children on the Feingold Diet, which screens out those substances, report fewer tantrums, more focused school work, and other welcome changes.

In the past several years, two British studies found that food dyes, together with the preservative sodium benzoate, impair the behavior of many children. CSPI filed a regulatory petition in June that called on the FDA to ban Yellow 5 and 6, Red 3 and 40, Blue 1 and 2, Green 3, and Orange B.

Most multinational food companies are already phasing those dyes out of foods in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe—even though American versions of the very same products continue to get their colors from synthetic dyes. 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 2-naphthalenesulfonic acid, 6-hydroxy-5-((6-methoxy-4-sulfo-m-tolyl)azo)-, disodium salt, a coal-derived chemical otherwise known by its less unappetizing name, Red 40. Similarly, a Betty Crocker yellow cake mix is colored in the United States with Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, but in Britain with safe natural colorings.

"The food industry won’t fix its American foods until the FDA tells them to," said Jacobson. "Unfortunately, the FDA asserts, on the basis of its misreading of a 25-year-old report, that there is ‘no evidence’ that dyes affect behavior. If companies like Mars, Kellogg, and McDonald’s were responsible, they would immediately begin switching to safe, natural colorings in the United States."

This isn’t the first time that CSPI has collected adverse reaction reports on food additives. It has been collecting and analyzing reports filed about the diarrhea-inducing synthetic fat olestra, or Olean, and a fungus-based meat substitute known as Quorn that can cause projectile vomiting and anaphylactic reactions.

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