After years of various consumer advocacy groups trying to get the FDA to ban artificial food colorings, and the FDA denying any connection between artificial food coloring and health problems, the agency is finally considering some movement forward. While the movement isn’t earth shattering, the FDA did announce that it will ask a panel of experts to review the evidence.
Having reviewed the existing studies on the health effects of artificial food coloring, the FDA concluded that, although they don’t believe food colorings actually cause behavioral problems in children, they do acknowledge that some kids who already have behavioral problems may get worse because of artificial food colorings, as well as other substances in food.
The report also said, basically, that there’s nothing wrong with the substances themselves; the problem is that the kids just can’t tolerate them. Other studies have shown that not to be the case. One study published in The Lancet, for example, showed that artificial food colorings can negatively affect the behavior of children who had no previous problems.
Despite the agency’s conclusion that the problem is the kids, not the food colorings, they convened the Food Advisory Committee to look into it further and recommend action.
The food industry is up in arms, saying that everything they use is approved by the FDA. That’s probably true. But many things have been approved by the FDA that have later been found to be dangerous or toxic and have either had black box warnings added to their labeling and usage information, or have been taken off the market altogether.
Additionally, some of the food colorings in current use were approved in 1931. In fact, they’re not even really the same substances now as they were then: they used to be made with coal tar, now they’re made with petroleum products.
It would also be nice to know that approvals are based on modern testing methods, equipment and procedures, rather than nearly century-old technology.
According to many experts and a number of studies, behavioral problems are far from the only possible health effects of artificial food colorings. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group dedicated to “conduct innovative research and advocacy programs in health and nutrition, and to provide consumers with current, useful information about their health and well-being,” has been fighting the artificial food coloring battle for years and has a valuable collection of studies and other information available on their website.