The Latest on Artificial Colors

It’s red all over. Specifically Red Dye 40 all over.

It’s in jelly beans and cereal and fruit snacks. It’s in Altoids (those are white, aren’t they?), M&Ms, Jello and Lifesavers. It’s in an awful lot of Easter chocolate and other candies you can get at grocery stores.

And it might be bad for you.

In fact, in early 2008, European food safety watchdogs called for a ban on six specific artificial colors, including Red 40, based on studies that suggest the additives may be connected to hyperactivity in children. Many food manufacturers began voluntarily phasing out the colorants, and later that year the European Union (EU) established new rules for artificial colors in foods requiring that EU food products that contain any of six specific colorants require warnings on the label. In 2010 the EU began requiring warning labels on foods with the six colors.

The major impact is that a food product containing any of these colors must include the following wording on the product label – “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

M&Ms, among other candies, decided that it didn’t want to have a warning label on its European packaging, so they voluntarily stopped using the color in its European products and now use a natural color.

Don’t worry, though, you can still get Red 40 in American M&Ms.

In fact, of the six artificial colors, three are approved for use in the United States: FD&C Red 40, FD&C Yellow 5 and FD&C Yellow 6. No warning label required. (The other three are colors approved in the EU, but not the US.)

But the US Food and Drug Administration is on the case. They sent it to a committee. And the committee said there’s really no problem, except that it might exacerbate the symptoms of children with behavioral problems. So they voted 8 to 14 that there was no need for a warning label.

Eight to 14. Which means that six experts said there should be a warning label. Isn’t democracy great?

The Grocery Manufacturers Association noted that “All of the major safety bodies globally have reviewed the available science and have determined that there is no demonstrable link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity among children.” No specific word on the fact that Red 40 is banned – no warning labels, an outright ban – in Denmark, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Sweden.

The manufacturers will continue to push the FDA and others to make sure that kids can eat their chemicals without fear of a warning label. Watchdog groups will continue to recommend that the colorants be banned.

Kakao, meanwhile, will continue to NOT use artificial colors in anything we make.

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