Years ago, most consumers didn’t read food labels or think much about the details of the ingredients in the foods and beverages they consumed.
That’s certainly not true any more. More people pay attention now, and the latest high-profile food issue has been about two chemical food dyes found in many foods, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6.
Earlier this month, two North Carolina bloggers, Vani Hari and Lisa Leake, started a petition urging Kraft to stop using the dyes in its macaroni and cheese. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese has been a kid-friendly favorite since 1937.
The women took action after finding out that Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are banned in some countries, such as the United Kingdom. There, Kraft uses substances such as paprika to add color.
More than 228,000 people have signed a petition at 100daysofrealfood.com and foodbabe.com.
Kraft spokeswoman Lynne Galia said in a statement: “The safety and quality of our products is our highest priority, and we take consumer concerns very seriously. We carefully follow the laws and regulations in the countries where our products are sold. So in the U.S., we only use colors that are approved and deemed safe for food use by the Food and Drug Administration.”
”We expanded our line of Kraft Mac & Cheese offerings. We know some people prefer foods without certain ingredients — we now offer a multitude of products (14) without added colors, as well as products with natural food colors including our KMC White Cheddar,” Galia said, and went on to list the 13 other products.
Color is added to foods and beverages, not because it’s necessary, but because it makes them more appealing. Would Fruit Loops and Jell-O taste the same if they were not colorful? Yes, but we might not perceive that they do, and we might not buy them.
Yellow 5 and 6 are on a list of nine synthetically produced certified food color additives approved for use in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration says the dyes are used widely because they impart an intense, uniform color, are less expensive than natural color additives and blend easily.
The others are Blue Nos. 1 and 2, Green No. 3, Red Nos. 3 and 40, Orange B and Citrus Red No. 2. Sometimes on the label they are preceded by the letters ”FD&C,” which stands for Food, Drugs & Cosmetics. Many artificial colors are made from coal tar, an industrial product that is used to shine industrial floors.
Colors that are exempt from certification include pigments derived from natural sources such as vegetables, minerals or animals. A few examples of natural color additives are annatto extract, caramel, fruit and vegetable juices, saffron and grape skin extract.
Food manufacturers are required to list all ingredients on the label, including any FDA-certified color additives.
Are the synthetic dyes that the FDA allows really that bad?
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, says that Yellow 5 causes sometimes-severe hypersensitivity reactions in a small number of people and might trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children. Since Yellow 5 serves no nutritional or safety purpose, CSPI says it should not be allowed in foods.
Yellow 6 caused adrenal tumors in animals, CSPI advises, though it says that is disputed by the food and beverage industry and by the FDA. Yellow 6 may be contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and occasionally causes severe hypersensitivity reactions. Yellow 6 also adds an unnecessary risk to the food supply, CSPI says.
CSPI says that FDA data indicates that Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 account for 90 percent of all dyes used. Since 1955, Americans’ consumption of such dyes has increased five-fold as we eat more processed foods including baked foods, frozen desserts, snack foods and even pickles and salad dressings.
Here’s what the FDA says about Yellow 5: ”FD&C Yellow No. 5, is used to color beverages, dessert powders, candy, ice cream, custards and other foods. FDA’s Committee on Hypersensitivity to Food Constituents concluded in 1986 that FD&C Yellow No. 5 might cause hives in fewer than one out of 10,000 people. It also concluded that there was no evidence the color additive in food provokes asthma attacks. The law now requires Yellow No. 5 to be identified on the ingredient line. This allows the few who may be sensitive to the color to avoid it.”