FDA Votes Not to Mandate Warnings for Food Coloring

BlogHer Original Post

When it was announced that the FDA would consider adding warning labels to foods with artificial colorings, a collective roar arose from the Internet. In this corner, anti-regulatory proponents, pointing out that any link between artificial colors and behavioral impact remains tenuous; in that corner, plenty of naturalists decrying the need for neon colors in food, and a giant group swapping war stories of how insane their kids get when they eat this or that artificial dye in their snacks.

The posts and comments are still flying fast and furious about the proposal, even though the measure was defeated on Thursday afternoon by a vote of 8-6. The panel "did call for more studies to determine if there is a link between food colors and hyperactivity in children," but for now -- no warning labels.

71/365As someone who's always trying to eat better/greener/more naturally, I'll admit I'm suspicious of artificial colors from the get-go. Really, it's okay -- I don't need my ketchup to be fire engine red. I could happily live my entire life without blue popsicles. I like food, made from things that grow in nature. As a parent, I'm always trying to strike a balance with what I feed to my kids, too. I want them to appreciate real food. I want them to appreciate and eat food that is delicious because food is delicious, not because it's full of sugar and chemicals that trick our brains into thinking, "Delicious!" At the same time, I don't want to create a situation where junk food is the proverbial forbidden fruit. So I try very hard to insure that the mainstay of our diets is wholesome, unaltered, preferably locally grown real food... but I do succumb to certain convenience foods from time to time.

I decided fairly recently that I would no longer buy foods with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in them, because I'd read enough research to convince me that it 1) truly has an undesirable impact on overall health and 2) it's added to nearly everything. My pantry is devoid of HFCS, which means it's pretty low on artificial colors -- most of the shelf-stable stuff I buy is either organic or all-natural, so it doesn't have those additives. But the list of foods which commonly contain added colors isn't limited to the foods that spring immediately to mind, and I'm definitely of the "wait, why are all these things being added to my food?" camp.

From a purely anecdotal perspective, I think I see a difference in my children's behavior when they eat foods containing neon dyes. Can I support that with science? Nope. Do I think it means what's right for my family (avoiding those dyes as much as possible) is necessary for everyone else in the world? Probably not. Do I think it bears further research? Yes, please. While I would've been in favor of the FDA voting for warnings, even with the measure not passing, I feel like the call for further study is at least a step in the right direction. And, as always, I'm a big believer in everyone -- maybe especially parents, but really everyone -- being mindful of what's in the foods they purchase. That just seems like good common sense; be aware, do your own research, and remember that if it doesn't occur in nature, eating a lot of it probably isn't the healthiest choice.

More on Artificial Dyes in Foods:

  • CNN's The Chart (their medical blog) reviewed the history of the food dye-hyperactivity link prior to the FDA hearing, concluding that a causal relationship was still quite weak.
  • BabyCenter's Betsy Shaw shared on Momformation that food dyes make her daughter "nutty," and she also notes that she has another child who seems unaffected by the same foods.
  • Alysa Wishingrad of Fresh Kids shares an excellent primer on food coloring which I'd say is a must-read if you want the Cliff Notes version of what research has shown about certain additives to date.
  • Annett Davis of Fit Moms Fit Kids Club asks her readers if they believe the dyes should be banned.
  • And Jennifer Chait of Inhabitots is likely unsurprised by the ruling, as she noted earlier this week that "... history says that the FDA is likely to side with big business, not consumers, meaning, it’s up to you to avoid artificial food dyes."

Are you concerned about artificial colors in foods? Do you think this should be an FDA matter or a matter of personal vigilance (or not)?

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir Kamin thinks food should be food-colored. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

Photo Credit: pineapple9995.

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