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Entries in Food Coloring (1)

Saturday
Apr022011

Artificial Food Dye: Delicious or Dangerous?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock (NEW YORK) -- Kim Snedden was at her wits end. Her son Sam was constantly frustrated and angry, easily distracted and annoyed.

At the suggestion of a neighbor in 2008 Snedden decided to try eliminating foods with artificial dyes from her family's diet. She purged the house of products like Froot Loops, Pop Tarts and Cheetos and refused to feed her family anything with "Red 40", "Yellow 5" or other manmade dyes in the ingredients list.

"For maybe two days we went dye free and on the third day I had a new family and I knew that was the answer. In three days I had a whole new scenario at home," she said.

Sam, now 13, was doing better in school and his moods had improved drastically.

Eliminating dye does not mean eliminating sugar, Snedden said. Naturally colored fruit jellies, dye-free "Fruitful O's" -- similar to Froot Loops -- and Frito Lay chips are still fair game.

The safety of artificial food dyes has come under serious scrutiny lately at the federal level. The Food and Drug Administration's Food Advisory Committee met Thursday in response to a 2008 letter from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urging the food regulatory committee to ban eight of the nine FDA-approved dyes. Citing a lack of scientific evidence to prove their connection to increased hyperactivity, the panel voted Thursday 11 to 3 against banning the dyes.

Artificial dyes are found in everything from M&Ms to many types of applesauce. In fact, it is difficult to find processed foods that do not have the dyes. For example, Quaker oatmeal squares and Vlasic sweet pickles have Yellow 5, Nutrigrain bars have Red 40, and Kraft marshmallows have Blue 1.

Food companies argue the dyes are perfectly safe ways to enhance the visual appearance of food.

"Food colors are used to brighten colorless foods, enhance existing color or make up for color losses which occur when food is exposed to air, light, moisture and variations in temperature," said Kraft spokesperson Valerie Moens. "The colors we use have gone through independent scientific review in regards to their safety."

Moens said the company is trying to extend their product line to include more foods with only natural coloring in response to customer demands.

The Mars company, which manufactures M&Ms and other candies, stands by the safety of artificial dye, but is also trying to phase them out in favor of natural colors.

"We have absolute confidence in the safety of all the natural and artificial ingredients we use, as does the FDA and other leading food safety regulators globally," a Mars spokesperson said. "We are continuing to look at the use of natural colors, not just in the U.S., but around the world. Keep in mind, though, that this is not a process that can happen overnight."

While multiple studies have been done on artificial dyes, none have found an inextricable link between hyperactivity and food dye.

"I think the FDA review has been very compelling. It's been very comprehensive," said Sean Taylor, the scientific director of the International Association of Color Manufacturers. "And I think their conclusions are that there seems to be a small subset of the population that has a unique intolerance possibly to foods in general. There could be a small subset of consumers that have a unique intolerance to food additives, food colors, we really don't know at this point."

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ABC News Radio