Brits Get Treats, Americans Get Tricks From Food Companies, Says Nutrition Action Healthletter

Pumpkin, Annatto, & Strawberry Color Foods There, Synthetic Petrochemicals Fill In Here


WASHINGTON—British consumers enjoy products made by General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft and McDonald's that are free of synthetic food dyes, but American customers lack such royal treatment, according to the October issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter. Despite evidence linking food dyes to hyperactivity and other behavior problems in children, companies continue to use the controversial dyes in American product lines while substituting natural colorings in the United Kingdom.

In the U.K., Fanta orange soda gets its bright color from pumpkin and carrot extract, but in the U.S. it comes from Red 40 and Yellow 6. Starburst Chews and Skittles, which are both Mars products, also contain synthetic food dyes in the U.S. but not in the U.K. Similarly, in the U.S., McDonald’s strawberry sundaes are colored with Red 40 but—amazing as it might sound—real strawberries in the U.K.

"British candy has all the sugar of American candy, and it’s certainly not health food," said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action’s publisher. "But as Halloween approaches, it's a shame that American kids trick-or-treat for candy dyed with discredited chemicals while British families have many of the same foods, minus the dyes."

Americans consume five times as much food dye as they did 30 years ago, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration. But in the wake of two British studies that found food dyes (and possibly the preservative sodium benzoate) impair the behavior of many children, the British government pressured companies to switch to safer, natural colorings and the European Parliament approved a warning label for foods that still contain the dyes.

In June CSPI urged the FDA to ban Red 40, Yellow 5 and six other synthetic dyes. The group wants parents of children sensitive to the chemicals to file reports online at, which CSPI will then forward to the FDA.

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