FDA Panel Delays Action on Dyes Used in Foods04/01/11
THURSDAY, March 31 (HealthDay News) -- Foods that contain dyes
used to enhance color don't need warning labels, a U.S. Food and
Drug Administration advisory panel said Thursday.
The advisers' 8-6 vote came in response to concerns, especially
from parents, that the commonly used dyes might be linked to
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in some
The advisory panel made its recommendation based on the FDA's
evaluation of existing data, as well as testimony from researchers.
It was the lack of rigorous studies, as well as a lack of data,
that prompted the panel to ask for more research into the issue and
delay a recommendation on artificial food colorings,
The issue pitted the food industry against some parents, public
watchdog groups and academics who've long agitated for a closer
look at the additives.
The FDA advisers, concluding two days of hearings that featured
parents, scientists and food-industry representatives, said there
wasn't enough evidence to definitively say that food dyes
contribute to ADHD. The FDA is not required to follow the
recommendations of its advisory panels, but it usually does so.
Artificial dyes are added to many foods including JELL-O, Lucky
Charms, Pop-Tarts, Nestles Butterfinger bars, Hostess Twinkies and
Frito-Lay Doritos, to name a few, according to the Center for
Science in the Public Interest.
The FDA does have regulatory authority over food additives. For
example, in 1976, Red No. 2 was banned because it might be
This week's meeting was significant because it was "the first
time the FDA has acknowledged that food dyes may affect children in
a limited way," said Dr. David Schab, a psychiatric researcher and
an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia
University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric
Institute in New York City.
Schab, who was scheduled to testify at the hearing, called it "a
big step forward."
The question the panel was dealing with was whether the dyes
cause ADHD, or might they simply trigger some nonspecific
behaviors, such as irritability and insomnia, Schab said.
Jeff Cronin, a spokesman for the Center for Science in the
Public Interest, which has long lobbied for a ban on the dyes, said
"the evidence that artificial food dyes worsen some children's
behavior is pretty convincing."
Cronin had hoped that the FDA panel would recommend warning
labels on foods with these additives, and encourage companies to
switch to safer colorings.
Given the studies done so far, Schab said he also favored
eliminating artificial colorings from foods.
"I would like the FDA to eliminate dyes, but I would also be very happy if we would have a label warning, like the ones that protect Europeans," Schab added. "Labels that warn that these dyes have potential detrimental effects on behavior."
Based on its review of published studies, the FDA at this point
said "a causal relationship between exposure to color additives and
hyperactivity in children in the general population has not been
However, it did go on to say that for some children with ADHD
and other behavioral problems, these dyes may exacerbate their
problems. But dyes may not be the only food additive that has this
effect, the FDA noted.
On the other side of the debate, Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for
the Grocery Manufacturers Association, contended that "the safety
of artificial colors has been affirmed through extensive review by
the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority, and neither agency
sees the need to change current policy."
Kennedy added that "all of the major safety bodies globally have
reviewed the available science and have determined that there is no
demonstrable link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity
Another industry voice said that food aesthetics matter to
In a statement, David Schmidt, president and CEO of the
International Food Information Council, said that "food colors add
to our enjoyment of food by maintaining or improving their
"Without sufficient scientific evidence that a causal link truly exists between food colors and hyperactivity in children, communications that suggest a link could have unintended consequences, including unnecessarily frightening consumers about safe ingredients that are consumed every day," he said. "Misguided theories dilute the impact of advice from health professionals on methods that have been found through scientific research to be truly effective in treating ADHD, such as medication and behavior modification."
However, Dr. Roberto F. Lopez-Alberola, chief of pediatric
neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine,
believes the dyes could have neurological effects on children.
"The European Food Safety Authority has made it law that foods that contain these additives have a warning label," he said. "This is already old news in the Old World."
Lopez-Alberola said these dyes make foods more attractive,
especially to children, and he speculates that part of the increase
in ADHD and autism has resulted from food additives. "It's not the
sugar, it could well be these colorants," he said.
Cronin, the spokesman for the Center for Science in the Public
Interest, said there are alternatives to chemical colorings. He
said that when warning labels were put on foods in Europe, it
caused many U.S.-based food companies to market natural-based
food-colored products in Europe.
For more information on ADHD, visit the
U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
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