Monday, January 2, 2012

Why All the Artificial Food Coloring?

Most of the processed food we consume has added coloring.  Red 40, in particular, is a colorant many parents and people try to avoid.

There are seven colorants currently certified in the United States for use in foods (European numbers in parenthesis):
  1. FD&C Blue 1 (E133)
  2. FD&C Blue 2 (E132)
  3. FD&C Green 3 (E143)
  4. FD&C Red 3 (E127)
  5. FD&C Red 40 (E129)
  6. FD&C Yellow 5 (E102)
  7. FD&C Yellow 6 (E110)
While considered safe for consumption by the FDA, many people have anecdotal reports of mild to severe reactions and some research by the British Food Standards Agency has found a direct link between increased hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder to kids who consume the chemicals (FD&C Yellow 6, FD&C Red 40, FD&C Yellow 5).

FD&C Red 40 is not recommended for consumption by children in Europe and is entirely banned from use in Denmark, France, Belgium and Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Austria and Norway.  It has also been directly linked as a cancer-causing agent in laboratory mice.

While not recommended and outright banned in some parts of Europe, the United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration) continues to fully support it's use in food, cosmetics and drugs.  Executive Director, Michael Jacobson, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, stated "These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody."

Food coloring is everywhere -- from a can of cherries to candy to soda to even some oranges to make them look flawless.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest summarizes the risks of consuming artificial colors in their full-report and summarized below:
Food dyes, synthesized originally from coal tar and now petroleum, have long been controversial. Many dyes have been banned because of their adverse effects on laboratory animals. This report finds that many of the nine currently approved dyes raise health concerns.

Blue 1 was not found to be toxic in key rat and mouse studies, but an unpublished study suggested the possibility that Blue 1 caused kidney tumors in mice, and a preliminary in vitro study raised questions about possible effects on nerve cells. Blue 1 may not cause cancer, but confirmatory studies should be conducted. The dye can cause hypersensitivity reactions.

Blue 2 cannot be considered safe given the statistically significant incidence of tumors, particularly brain gliomas, in male rats. It should not be used in foods.

Citrus Red 2, which is permitted only for coloring the skins of oranges not used for processing, is toxic to rodents at modest levels and caused tumors of the urinary bladder and possibly other organs. The dye poses minimal human risk, because it is only used at minuscule levels and only on orange peels, but it still has no place in the food supply.

Green 3 caused significant increases in bladder and testes tumors in male rats. Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers it safe, this little-used dye must remain suspect until further testing is conducted.

Orange B is approved for use only in sausage casings, but has not been used for many years. Limited industry testing did not reveal any problems.

Red 3 was recognized in 1990 by the FDA as a thyroid carcinogen in animals and
is banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. All uses of Red 3 lakes (combinations of dyes and salts that are insoluble and used in low-moisture foods) are also banned. However, the FDA still permits Red 3 in ingested drugs and foods, with about 200,000 pounds of the dye being used annually. The FDA needs to revoke that approval.
is banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. All uses of Red 3 lakes (combinations of dyes and salts that are insoluble and used in low-moisture foods) are also banned. However, the FDA still permits Red 3 in ingested drugs and foods, with about 200,000 pounds of the dye being used annually. The FDA needs to revoke that approval.

Red 40, the most-widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of immune-system tumors in mice. The dye causes hypersensitivity (allergy-like) reactions in a small number of consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children. Considering the safety questions and its non-essentiality, Red 40 should be excluded from foods unless and until new tests clearly demonstrate its safety.

Yellow 5 was not carcinogenic in rats, but was not adequately tested in mice. It may be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals. In addition, Yellow 5 causes sometimes-severe hypersensitivity reactions in a small number of people and might trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children. Posing some risks, while serving no nutritional or safety purpose, Yellow 5 should not be allowed in foods. 
Yellow 6 caused adrenal tumors in animals, though that is disputed by industry and the FDA. It may be contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and occasionally causes severe hypersensitivity reactions. Yellow 6 adds an unnecessary risk to the food supply.
Almost all the toxicological studies on dyes were commissioned, conducted, and analyzed by the chemical industry and academic consultants. Ideally, dyes (and other regulated chemicals) would be tested by independent researchers. Furthermore, virtu- ally all the studies tested individual dyes, whereas many foods and diets contain mixtures of dyes (and other ingredients) that might lead to additive or synergistic effects. 
In addition to considerations of organ damage, cancer, birth defects, and allergic reactions, mixtures of dyes (and Yellow 5 tested alone) cause hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in some children. Because of that concern, the British government advised companies to stop using most food dyes by the end of 2009, and the European Union is requiring a warning notice on most dye-containing foods after July 20, 2010. The issue of food dyes and behavior has been discussed in a separate CSPI report and petition calling on the FDA to ban most dyes.
Because of those toxicological considerations, including carcinogenicity, hypersensitivity reactions, and behavioral effects, food dyes cannot be considered safe.The FDA should ban food dyes, which serve no purpose other than a cosmetic effect, though quirks in the law make it difficult to do so (the law should be amended to make it no more difficult to ban food colorings than other food additives). In the meantime, companies voluntarily should replace dyes with safer, natural colorings. 
There are natural and safe food coloring alternatives including these:

With so many natural coloring options, why take any risk?  

I recently noticed Starbucks cake pop kit used beet juice and turmeric for the food coloring.   I have previously blogged about candy canes and candy alternatives that use natural coloring.  I'm so happy some companies are doing the right thing, and will work to support them.

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