Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, has called on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of eight artificial colorings in food because they have been linked to hyperactivity and behavior problems in children. Controlled studies conducted over three decades have shown that children’s behavior can be worsened by some artificial dyes. According to the Center, the group noted the British government is successfully pressuring food manufacturers to switch to safer colorings. Over the years, the FDA has consistently disputed the center’s assertion. The agency’s Web site contains a 2004 brochure that asks the question:
Do additives cause childhood hyperactivity? No. Although this hypothesis was popularized in the 1970’s, well-controlled studies conducted since then have produced no evidence that food additives cause hyperactivity or learning disabilities in children.
Julie Zawisza, an FDA spokeswoman, told CNN that color additives undergo safety reviews prior to approval for marketing and that samples of each artificial coloring are tested. She said the agency reviewed one of the studies that the center cites in calling for a ban, but that the FDA hasn’t changed its opinions. Dyes are used in countless foods and are sometimes used to simulate the color of fruits or vegetables. The additives are particularly prevalent in the cereals, candies, sodas, and snack foods marketed to children. The Center’s executive director, Michael F. Jacobson, commented:
The purpose of these chemicals is often to mask the absence of real food, to increase the appeal of a low-nutrition product to children, or both. Who can tell the parents of kids with behavioral problems that this is truly worth the risk?
The Center’s petition asks the FDA to require a warning label on foods with artificial dyes while it considers the group’s request to ban the dyes outright. Hopefully, the FDA will make sure that the dyes used in foods are safe.
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