What is in this article?:
As mass food manufacturers reformulate to remove artificial colors from their products abroad, Organic Connections caught up with food safety advocate Robyn O'Brien to explore why many products in America still contain these dyes—and the potential health risks.
Right now, there is a lot of discussion around the science of food dyes. Do artificial colors contribute to hyperactivity in kids? Are food dyes responsible for ADHD? Is it the government’s job to take these dyes out of our kids’ foods or is it ours?
The fact of the matter is that you are going to get a different answer depending on who you ask. I learned this the hard way when I went to some of our leading pediatric allergists a few years ago to ask about the link between the introduction of GMOs into our food supply and the sudden epidemic we were seeing in the number of American kids with food allergies.
They didn’t like the line of questioning and fired off some pretty aggressive responses. But given my background as a food industry analyst, I quickly learned that financial ties between doctors and agrichemical, food and pharmaceutical corporations can play a pretty important role in what these doctors are willing to say.
So when people get heated up around the science of food dyes, I find myself asking the same questions: Who has funded the research? Is there a financial incentive involved to protect the status quo? And are doctors that are speaking out on this issue in any way affiliated as spokespersons for either the food or pharmaceutical companies that stand to benefit from the continued use of these food dyes in foods?
Since there are usually extensive financial ties between doctors and food and pharmaceutical corporations, it is often helpful to turn to the consumer marketplace and food companies themselves for answers because money talks.
Consumer demand and the Southampton Study
Interestingly, Kraft, Coca Cola and Wal-Mart have already removed these artificial food colors and dyes from the products that they distribute in other countries. They’ve reformulated their product lines in other countries and no longer include these food dyes, and they did it in response to consumer demand and an extraordinary study called the Southampton Study.
The Southampton Study was unusual in that it not only tested an overall number of six dyes (three of them are used in the US (Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) and the other three are used in the UK) but also the combination of two ingredients: tartrazine (yellow #5) and sodium benzoate. The study’s designers knew that a child very rarely has occasion to ingest just a synthetic color or just a preservative; rather, a child who is gobbling up multicolored candies is probably taking in several colors and at least one preservative.
What’s amazing is that in the U.K., the federal food safety agency actually funded the Southampton Study that led to even U.S. corporations eliminating synthetic colors and sodium benzoate from their U.K. products.
And in response, a whole host of companies, including the U.K. branches of Wal-Mart, Kraft, Coca Cola and the Mars candy company (who make M&Ms), have voluntarily removed artificial colors, the preservative sodium benzoate, and even aspartame from their products. Particularly those marketed to kids.
When I first learned about this in the spring of 2007, I was stunned. Our American companies had removed these harmful ingredients from their products overseas—but not here?
When I first learned this, I found the information discouraging. But then I realized that we aren’t asking our corporations to reinvent the wheel, we are simply asking for them to place the same products on our grocery store shelves that they are selling overseas.