Artificial Food Dyes Linked to Cancer, Says New Report

Jun 30, 2010
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.
Pretty poison? (Photo: Carolyn Coles /Creative Commons)

Looks aren't everything. But they sure do appeal to the eyes.

That's why the food industry has been adding artificial food dyes to otherwise bland-looking edibles for years. Without the color boost they've been getting, your Fruit Loops, for example, would be brown.

But one consumer group says that the price tag of pretty is cancer.

In a recent report, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that artifical dyes should be banned, pointing to the fact that none of the dyes have been proven safe.

CSPI's executive director and co-author of the study, Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, told WebMD that the dyes have no nutritional benefit and are not worth the risks.

CSPI asked the FDA for a ban on artificial dyes 12 years ago, when studies showed the dyes were linked to hyperactivity in kids. The effort to eliminate coloring compounds has recently regained momentum because of animal studies that show the dyes (and the chemicals bound to them) are cancerous.

The FDA's website offers a soothing statement on food dyes, ("Color additives are now recognized as an important part of practically all processed foods we eat"), but WebMD reports that "the reassuring brochure was developed by the International Food Information Council, a U.S. group largely funded by the food industry."

Starting July 20, the European Union is requiring a warning label on foods that use dye—a sign, CSPI hopes, that the end is nigh for dyes.

According to CSPI's site, we don't have to say goodbye to color; there are plenty of natural alternatives. Among them, "beet juice, beta-carotene, blueberry juice concentrate, carrot juice, grape skin extract, paprika, purple sweet potato or corn, red cabbage, and turmeric are some of the substances that provide a vivid spectrum of colors."

Fruit Loops and other shockingly vivid foods aren't the only ones that use dyes. According to “Food Dyes: Rainbow of Risks,” an article written by Jacobson and Sarah Kobylewski, a Ph.D. candidate in the molecular toxicology program at the University of California, Los Angeles, the dyes are used in "everything from M&Ms to Manischewitz Matzo Balls to Kraft salad dressings."

The artificial compounds also throw your brain for a loop, tricking it into believing that foods with chemical dyes are healthier than they really are. "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," Jacobsen said in 2008. "Who can tell the parents of kids with behavioral problems that this is truly worth the risk?"

Photo: Carolyn Coles/Creative Commons via Flickr

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