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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Do Artificial Food Dyes Adversely Affect Children's Behavior?

This is a question that's been around awhile without having been answered conclusively, or at least not to the satisfaction of the U.S.. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency with regulatory responsibility for these inescapable chemicals. They are found in all sorts of everyday products popular with kids, from prepared foods to breakfast cereals and toothpaste.

Nine of these dyes are in common use, with Red #40, Yellow #5 and Yellow #6 comprising 90 percent of the market.

"They're really ubiquitous in this food supply that we've created," says Dr. David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Correlation Isn't Causation...

More than a dozen studies have already shown some correlation between food dye consumption and hyperactivity in children, with a reduction in symptoms corrsponding with changes in diet. Yet the FDA has voted against warning labels, and insists the question requires further review. Here's their unedited statement on the subject:
"Based on the data reviewed in the body of scientific literature, FDA last year concluded that a causal relationship between exposure to color additives and hyperactivity in children in the general population has not been established.

However, for certain susceptible children with ADHD and other problem behaviors, the data suggest that their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, artificial food colors. Findings from relevant clinical trials indicate that the effects on their behavior appear to be due to a unique intolerance to these substances and not to any inherent neurotoxic properties.

FDA's Food Advisory Committee (a group of advisors from outside the FDA) met on March 30-31, 2011 to consider available relevant data on the possible association between the consumption of certified color additives in food and adverse behavioral effects in children. The committee was asked to advise FDA as to what action, if any, is warranted to ensure consumer safety from the use of these color additives in food. After receiving information from FDA, experts, and stakeholders, the FAC (1) found that existing data supported FDA's conclusion that there is not an established link between consumption of food dyes and adverse behavioral effects in children, (2) voted against the need for additional information on the product label of foods with color additives, and (3) recommended that additional safety studies be conducted. The FAC also recommended that a rigorous, comprehensive dietary exposure assessment of certified color additives be performed.

FDA currently is collecting data on the levels of color additives used in food. These data will be used to estimate dietary exposure for various populations, including children. Regarding the need for additional safety studies, FDA has begun a reassessment of the numerous safety studies conducted on certified color additives that are available in its files. Based on this evaluation, FDA will determine whether additional safety studies are needed."
The European Union, which sensibly embraced the so-called "precautionary principle" as the basis for its product safety regulations, years ago required warning labels on products containing artificial colorings.This action prompted many manufacturers, including Kellogg's, General Mills and Kraft,  to drop the dyes from their European recipes, lest their sales be adversely impacted. The upshot? Euro M&Ms are slightly duller in color than their American cousins. In other words, no biggie.

Do we really need these things?

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