19 Aug 2014
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The Color of Money: Do Fruit Loops Really Make Kids Loopy?

FDA holds hearings on artificial food dyes

The Color of Money: Do Fruit Loops Really Make Kids Loopy?

In the last few weeks, I had the unfortunate experience of a kitchen accident.

I wish I could say that the big butcher knife leaped – without provocation – off my counter and straight into my foot.  The truth is far from supernatural. I was clumsy and did not properly set it on the counter, so it wobbled, fell off the counter, and plunged straight into my unsuspecting foot. It was a split second, but seemed like slow motion.

Once I stopped the bleeding, washed the wound, taped it up, and calmed my disturbed dog, I looked at the crime scene that my kitchen had become.  I began to think about all of the things that can go wrong in the kitchen.

Knife accidents, stove fires, and scalding water burns are obvious hazards related to kitchen implements. Of course, we cannot leave out the food-borne hazards: Botchulism, Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli.  Then there are allergies: lactose, peanuts, berries, gluten all present a risk (in varying degrees) to those afflicted with them.  Tack on cholesterol, saturated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, and even sodium and you are lucky if can get in out of your kitchen unscathed. The place is a war-zone for the hungry.

With all of the dangers that we must dodge, it is hard to keep track of who or what is on the Most Wanted List. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently set its sights on the colored dyes that give everything from cereal to soda a rich and ripe color scheme.

The FDA held a hearing this month to examine whether there is a link (what we in the law call “proximate cause”) between artificial food dyes and behavior problems in children, such as hyperactivity. The hearing did not materialize out of the Blue No. 1 (a dye commonly used in Jell-O and other brightly colored food). Parents and consumer advocacy groups have sought a wide-scale review of food additives for years.

The FDA has not been ignorant of the debate. In fact, FDA staff scientists previously studied the effect that synthetic dyes might have and concluded that dyes may intensify behavioral problems in children with an existing history of such actions, but there is little to – at this point – to support any claims that the dyes create or otherwise initialize behavioral changes.

Food additives are nothing new – the New York Times notes that may received FDA approval in the 1930s. Moreover, skepticism over the safety of these dyes (Red No. 3, Yellow No. 5 among them) followed not soon after.

Understandably, manufacturers that routinely use these dyes in their products have been vocal in both the safety of their product ingredients and their opposition to the need for additional research or review. Still other groups will most certainly decry FDA review as more proof that we are becoming more a “nanny state” that bans sodas and school bake sales.

I think the FDA should require additional objective research before reaching any determination. Historically, FDA interest in food additives has been minimal. But given the growing body of research pointing to the effect on the human body that livestock hormones and other “extra ingredients” in the food supply may have (good or bad), it is incumbent upon the agency tasked with policing our food to investigate this issue.

Until then, I’ll be paying closer attention to the ingredients in my food – and wearing steel-toed shoes in the kitchen.

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