Proposed warning labels are needed to inform parents that food dyes cause behavioral problems in children

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Director Susan Mayne, CSPI said that the agency previously acknowledged in 2011 that dyes may trigger adverse behavioral reactions in children. Ideally, said CSPI, dyes should not be in the food supply. But as long as they are, the FDA should require warning labels, as it has required warnings on unpasteurized juices and foods that contain aspartame, among other examples, according to CSPI.

“As long as dyes are permitted, only a warning label will provide consumers with the appropriate information to enable them to make the association between foods containing these dyes and their children’s behavioral symptoms,” CSPI wrote. “The FDA has mandated such labeling in the past on several occasions. For the same reason, labeling is necessary in the context of food dyes.”

Europe requires a warning label on most dyed foods, and that has led many companies to replace dyes with natural colorings.

Erica Stewart of Chicago submitted one of the complaints CSPI delivered to the FDA. She had taken her son to several doctors to treat his behavioral problems before discovering that eliminating Red 40 from his diet reduced his symptoms.

“We spent years battling my middle son’s severe emotional and behavioral problems,” Stewart wrote. “He was non-verbal, violent to the point of hurting himself and others. He was utterly out of control and would require up to four adults to restrain him… two weeks after he stopped eating any food with red dye, he began talking, stopped hurting people, and was a whole new child.”

In 2008, CSPI urged the FDA to ban synthetic food dyes and in January of 2016 released Seeing Red, a report that detailed the mounting scientific evidence of the behavioral problems caused by food dyes. Because FDA has not acted, and because most parents—and doctors—are not even aware that dyes could be contributing to their child’s problems, CSPI suggests that a warning label would make the connections clear to consumers. The consumer group says that awareness could avoid the needless suffering of children and families, as well as potentially avert the need for medication or other medical interventions in some children.