Under growing pressure from consumer advocates, the FDA has agreed to reassess whether synthetic food dyes contribute to hyperactivity in young children. The dyes are ubiquitous in everyday foods. They show up in chips, macaroni and cheese and soda under names like Yellow No. 5 and Red No. 40.
The FDA has studied the issue before and in the past has concluded that no definitive link exists between the food dyes and any adverse health effects. However, the New York Times reports new scientific studies suggest growing evidence that children with pre-existing behavioral disorders may have their condition exacerbated by the artificial colorings.
The FDA will ask a panel of experts to review the evidence and consider policy changes, which might include warning labels.
According to the New York Times article, artificial food dyes have been on the FDA’s radar for more than a century. Some of the original dyes were highly toxic and needed to be pulled off the market. Many of the dyes currently in use were approved by the FDA all the way back in the 1930s, which fuels skepticism about their safety. Nevertheless, some scientists say any link between food dyes and behavioral disorders is unproven and highly doubtful. Others say the health risks are akin to regular food allergies, where a bad reaction has more to do with a person’s unique intolerance to a chemical than anything inherently wrong with the food itself.
The FDA panel will not consider an all-out ban of artificial food dyes. It’s expected they’ll request further research before making any large-scale recommendations.
Incidentally, some stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's do not sell foods with artificial colorings.
Click here for an NBC News story on the food dye controversy.
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