The food-coloring fracas

Should artificial dyes be banned from our food?

April 12, 2011

Last month, the activists over at the Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a public call for a ban on synthetic food colorants, saying that the chemicals could be linked to hyperactivity in children.

In response, the Food and Drug Administration reviewed the safety of artificial food dyes and, at the end of March, issued the confusing statement that, while some behavioral problems might indeed be linked to or exacerbated by colorants, no ban or public warning was needed.

Afterward, Gardiner Harris, the New York Times public-health reporter covering the food-coloring fracas, published an op-ed declaring synthetic dyes to be an essential component of enjoyable food. Nutritionist Marion Nestle had a slightly different take on the matter, telling an interviewer that artificial dyes were unnecessary:

Food is fine as it is. It doesn’t need artificial enhancements. Foods that “need” artificial dyes are not really food. They are “food-like objects.”

Currently, synthetic colorants are not required to be listed on food labels. Nevertheless, Nestle suggested a few easy ways to avoid them at the store:

My advice to everyone (only slightly facetious) is not to buy foods from the center aisles of supermarkets, and to avoid buying anything with more than five ingredients, anything they can’t pronounce, anything artificial, and anything with a cartoon on the package. That should take care of most problems.
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