Seeing red in food dyes

They have no nutritional value; they are completely unnecessary; and they are harmful to health. Yet food dyes are added in growing amounts.

Blue #1 and Blue #2 banned in Norway, Finland and France,

Blue #1 and Blue #2 banned in Norway, Finland and France,

If you read food labels, as I do, you won’t necessarily find them listed.  Health Canada reluctantly allows dyes to be labelled as “colours,” which obscures what they really are.

“Regulations provide food manufacturers with the choice of declaring added colour(s) by either their common name or simply as ‘colours’.”

I say reluctantly because Health Canada recognizes that current labelling is a problem. They would prefer that all colours be listed by their common name or by the Colour Identification number. And they want natural colours, which can cause allergic or sensitivity responses, to be listed as well.

To get some idea of what such labelling might look like, the European Union has the following regulation in place since 2010.

“This regulation requires that the synthetic colours sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), tartrazine (E102), and Ponceau 4R (E124) be labelled by their common names or E numbers in the list of ingredients along with the following warning statement: ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’.

What was once only suspected is now confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt. Since the 1970s, more than 30 studies have been conducted on the adverse affects of dyes. Two large studies done in the United Kingdom found that they affect the behaviour of children in the general population.

When food dyes are eliminated, adverse behaviour is reduced in children. A report from Center for Science in the Public Interest released earlier this year states:

“The mounting evidence has led to a growing consensus among researchers, physicians, psychologists, and others who treat patients with such behavioural disorders as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that avoidance of food dyes benefits some children.”

The dyes in just a single cupcake or glass of Kool-Aid can be enough to prompt adverse behavioural reactions in some children. If the U.S. numbers are projected to Canada, fifty thousand children suffer adverse behavioural reactions after ingesting food dyes with a cost of hundreds of millions to our health care system.

The United Kingdom regulates dyes in foods, especially those which appeal to children. Take McDonald’s Strawberry Sundae, for example. In the UK the ingredients are Strawberries (38%), Sugar, Glucose, Syrup, Gelling Agent (Pectin), Acidant (Citric Acid).  In the U.S., the percentage of strawberries is not shown and while the other ingredients are similar, Red 40 has been added.

The food industry likes food dyes because they can reduce or eliminate any natural ingredients without any change in appearance.

The harm to children and the costs to society from dyes are needless and preventable. If Health Canada recognizes food dyes as being harmful, why hasn’t the Government of Canada acted on their concerns? The short answer is that the Government of Canada during the Dark Decade preferred to let industry regulate itself.

Elimination of harmful food dyes is just one more things on the current government’s to-do list. No doubt Canadians will have to remind them of their duty to protect the health of children.