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Apr 4, 2011

Artificial Food Colorings: FDA Reconsidering Safety Warnings


An increasing number of studies suggesting a connection between artificial colorings and behavior changes in children has finally attracted attention from the Food and Drug Administration.  Some scientists from the FDA have admitted in a report that children with behavioral issues may have their conditions “exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.”  Until now, the FDA has held the position that there is no definitive association between artificial colorings, behavior problems or other health problems.  Later this week, a panel of experts will re-examine the evidence and make recommendations on possible policy changes like new warning labels on food. 

Today, artificial colorings are derived from petroleum products.  A number of artificial colorings, including Orange #1 and Red #2, have already been banned in years past by the FDA due to discovered toxicity or suspected carcinogenic activity.  Some research, including a study published by The Lancet medical journal in 2007, has shown that artificial colorings may affect behaviors in children.  More research in this area is certainly warranted, but little incentive currently exists.  Not only do manufacturers (whose patents on artificial colorings have already expired) have little to gain from investing in such research, but pediatric research in general tends to be challenging and expensive.  For those people who prefer eating foods without added artificial colorings, it is helpful to know that at least the FDA currently requires manufacturers to disclose the presence of artificial colorings on food labels.          

Dr. Shana McQueen