The “Dyes” Have It

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A large food manufacturer sells its popular cereal bars both in the United States and in Britain. The key difference between the two products? The one sold in Britain contains no artificial dyes. While the US version of the product gets its color from Red No. 40, the British version contains natural colorants such as Beetroot red, Annatto, and Paprika extract.

A Google search for “artificial dyes and childhood disorders” will return numerous links to studies and articles tying artificial dyes to conditions such as ADD, ADHD, hyperactivity, asthma, autism, and more. One study linking artificial dyes and childhood hyperactivity which is frequently cited in articles took place at the University of Southampton in 2007. The study included 153 three year olds and 144 eight year olds and provided “clear demonstration that changes in behaviour can be detected in three-year-old and eight-year-old children” who consume artificial colors and the preservative sodium benzoate. Based largely on this study the British government and the European Union decided to require warning labels on foods containing the dyes in question.   These dyes went on to be known as the “Southampton Six”. This move has largely eliminated the use of those specific artificial dyes in EU countries as the manufacturers have chosen to use natural alternatives to color their products rather than disclose the use of artificial dyes with labels stating “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”.

While the EU found the 2007 study and others compelling enough to require warning labels on the use of artificial dyes, the Food and Drug Administration in our country remains unconvinced. Despite numerous hearings on the matter the FDA maintains that the evidence is not clear and more research is needed. In spite of the FDA’s reluctance to act, evidence continues to grow that at least some children are adversely affected by exposure to artificial dyes.

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