Labeling of Bug-Based Food Colorings Will Help Some Consumers

Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson


After a decade-long gestation period, the Food and Drug Administration has finally ordered that food and cosmetics manufacturers that color their products with carmine and cochineal list them by name in ingredient lists. Until now, these colorings, extracted from the dried bodies of the tiny cochineal bug, have been hidden under the terms "artificial colors" or "color added." Naming those ingredients on labels will help people who suffered allergic reactions determine if the colors were the culprits.

That's useful progress. But, ideally, FDA should have exterminated these critter-based colorings altogether. The only way people can determine that they are sensitive to them is to suffer repeated reactions, including potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. Also, the FDA should have required labels to disclose that carmine and cochineal are extracted from insects, which many consumers—including vegetarians, Jews, and Muslims—would be interested to know.

CSPI petitioned the FDA in 1998 to require labeling after a study by a University of Michigan allergy expert who discovered that carmine was the cause of an allergic reaction in one of his patients. Subsequently, CSPI received adverse-reaction reports from several dozen consumers. Yet carmine and cochineal extract remain in dozens of reddish-colored foods and beverages, including fruit drinks, ice creams, yogurts, and candies.

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