In a never ending pursuit for profit, American companies like Kellog, Kraft and General Mills continue to use dangerous food dyes despite reports linking the chemicals to some types of cancer and causing childhood problems like hyperactivity, bedwetting, and more. EU regulators require foods containing chemical food dyes to carry a warning label. Since that would deter customers, the US food giants gave into the demands of proven safety in Europe and eliminated the chemical dyes from their products sold overseas, replacing them with natural food dyes made from plants. These companies find it too hard to part with the half-penny per box profit they generate by keeping the dyes in the US food supply and protect consumers and children by using plant based dyes like those sold in the UK.
“In Europe manufacturers need to prove an ingredient is SAFE beyond a shadow of a doubt for it to be approved for use.
In the US, researchers need to prove an ingredient is DANGEROUS beyond a shadow of a doubt for it to be banned.”
United States food giants have the blessing of our government’s administration to use the chemicals, as the FDA gives dyes a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status. The FDA even words the status loosely, “generally” recognized as safe; that word indicates a lack of certainty on the matter since the dyes have never actually been proven safe. This green light from the FDA is why consumers’ intake of food dyes have increased five times in the last 30 years. Interesting how in the last couple decades, as marketing colorful foods to children became regular practice for these companies, childhood behavioral disorders has skyrocketed. That’s convenient for the corporate giants as now drug companies can market mind numbing pills to our children with the promise to quell this new surge of troubled youth inflicted with the dreaded ADD.
As I left the supermarket today, there was a box of food dye sitting out of place near the checkout; I couldn’t help but imagine who was going to buy it, knowing someone would unknowingly be loading their family up with these chemicals in holiday sweets. While you can’t go around putting poison stickers on every prepackaged fake food product that sits on grocer’s shelves (which was a fleeting thought as I stood in line waiting to check out) you can take measures to protect your family by offering them a diet of whole, organic foods and educating your friends and extended family who may be unaware of what lurks inside processed foods.
When most shoppers reach for Kellogg’s strawberry-flavored, Nutri-Grain cereal bars, they likely assume that the snacks get their hue from, well, actual strawberries. Or if that alluringly red fruit filling didn’t come from real berries, it must at least be the result of other natural ingredients, right? Unfortunately, shoppers would be wrong in making both of those assumptions — in America, that is.
Check a box of strawberry Nutri-Grain bars sold in America and you’ll notice that the treats contain synthetic food dyes like Red 40, Yellow 6, and Blue 1 (pdf). Shoppers on the other side of the pond buying the same products, however, will see that their bars get their colors from all-natural beet root, annatto, and paprika extract.
Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain bars are hardly the only American food products whose ingredients differ from those of their European counterparts. A Fanta soda sold in the States gets its shockingly orange hue from Red 40 and Yellow 6. U.K. consumers can thank pumpkin and carrot extract for creating the bold-colored beverage. McDonald’s strawberry sundaes sold in the U.S. rely on Red 40. In the U.K. those sundaes get their red sauce from — gasp! — actual strawberries. And while America-sold Tostitos Hint of Lime chips contain Blue 1 and Red 40, the snack’s U.K. version lists no food colorants whatsoever.
While countless U.S. foods contain synthetic food dyes like Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, these goods’ European counterparts regularly get their colors from all-natural extracts. “Food safety officials in Europe have moved much more quickly to protect children from artificial dyes,” the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said in a press release. “The British government has urged companies to stop using most dyes, and the European Union requires a warning notice on most dyed foods. As a consequence, the Kellogg Company, Kraft, McDonald’s and other American companies that do business in Europe use safe, natural colorings there — but harmful, synthetic petrochemicals here.”
The difference in ingredients comes at the expense of American consumers’ health. Studies link artificial dyes like Red 40 to behavioral problems and hyperactivity in children. Some synthetic dyes — like Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 — contain cancer-causing compounds, while others have been linked to allergic reactions. As Europe cracks down on the use of these noxious, processed colors, America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fails to regulate their use despite mounting evidence that these dye cause health problems. So while some companies like Kellogg have ditched synthetic food dyes from their European products, they continue to pump American-sold foods full of artificial colors in order to maximize profits. It’s a discrepancy that’s caused Americans’ intake of artificial dyes to skyrocket to five times more than the amount folks consumed 30 years ago.
While Kraft, McDonald’s, Kellogg, General Mills, and Mars continue to use millions of pounds of synthetic dyes every year, some companies are voluntarily eliminating these chemicals. According to CSPI, Starbucks doesn’t use artificial colors in any of its beverages or pastries, while famed candy maker NECCO ditched dyes from its wafers. Frito-Lay is also experimenting with dye-free foods.
The FDA recently said it would (finally) examine artificial dyes’ potential impacts on children’s health, but restricting these harmful chemical could still be awhile off — if this kind of regulation ever happens. In the meantime, it’s up to consumers to demand that companies rid their products of dangerous dyes. It’s clear that safe alternatives exist because food producers are already using them in Europe.
By: Sarah Parsons