Don’t know if you’ve had a chance to catch one of the more recent missives from the Center for Public Science (CSPI) -- you know, that Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group headed by Michael Jacobson, often referred to by some as the “Food Police.” Its press release dated June 29 and entitled “CSPI Says Food Dyes Pose Rainbow of Risks” references a 58-page report co-authored by Jacobson on the dangers of food dyes in our food supply.
CSPI doesn’t mince any words in the report, singling out three dyes -- Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 -- as containing carcinogens. It also cites Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5 & Yellow 6 as causing allergic reactions in some people. Finally, it points out that Red 3, which “has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen,” is still in the food supply.
As a result, CSPI has called on the FDA to ban all dyes.
For many of those you know me, I tend to have fairly liberal views on a wide range of subjects, from politics to religion. Nevertheless, when it comes to CSPI, I have to admit that the group’s sensational tactics have irked me many a time. Their life-and-death argument about food paints too bleak and simplistic a picture for me, particularly when it makes references to Fettuccini Alfredo as “heart attack on a plate” or soda as “liquid candy.”
At the same time, the organization was recognized by no less than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with a Harvey W. Wiley Citation in 2007, the agency’s highest award. To its credit, CSPI has made politicians and producers much more aware of food safety.
CSPI’s take on dyes once again reflects the urgent “prophet-of-doom” style of past proclamations. In this instance, however, I’m afraid the agency’s plea to the FDA to ban all dyes can’t be summarily brushed aside.
Consider this quote from James Huff, the associate director for chemical carcinogenesis at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ National Toxicology Program, which was part of the press release: “Dyes add no benefits whatsoever to foods, other than making them more ‘eye-catching’ to increase sales. CSPI’s scientifically detailed report on possible health effects of food dyes raises many questions about their safety. Some dyes have caused cancers in animals, contain cancer-causing contaminants or have been inadequately tested for cancer or other problems. Their continued use presents unnecessary risks to humans, especially young children. It’s disappointing that the FDA has not addressed the toxic threat posed by food dyes.”
CSPI also references the British government’s move to phase out most dyes by Dec. 31 as well as the European Union’s latest requirement, which begins July 20, of having a warning notice on most dyed foods. It predicts that the label notice - “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children” - likely will be the death knell for dyes in all of Europe. The watchdog group points out that Mars’ Starburst Chews and Skittles contain synthetic dyes in the United States, but not in Britain.
In speaking to a few suppliers of natural as well as artificial colors, there’s quite a bit of doubt associated with scientific studies involving dyes and hyperactivity in children. Nevertheless, as events across the pond demonstrate, perception can become reality. I sense the same chain of events happening here. As a result, I urge you all to monitor this topic closely, regardless of where you stand on the artificial versus natural debate.
Just think: When was the last time you saw Fettuccine Alfredo on a restaurant menu?