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Friday, March 28, 2014

Why M&M’s Are Made With Natural Coloring In The EU And Not The U.S.

If you’ve ever eaten candy from a European Union country, you might notice some unusual ingredients.

For  instance, Nestlé’s chocolate “Smarties” contain radish, lemon and red cabbage extracts for coloring, rather than yellow six or red 40. So why is that?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a petition calling on the American-based candy manufacturer Mars, Inc., maker of M&M’s chocolate candies, to stop using artificial dyes in their products. They’ve also petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to regulate food dyes more strictly.

The FDA released the following statement:

“For certain susceptible children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and other problem behaviors…the data suggest that their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.
In 2011 an FDA advisory committee conducted meetings on whether there is a link between food dyes and hyperactivity in children. The Committee concluded that (1) there is no causal link between children’s consumption of synthetic color additives and adverse behavioral effects based on the available data, (2) additional labeling information is unnecessary and (3) additional research should be conducted to further investigate potential developmental and behavioral effects in children from exposure to these substances.”

Currently, the FDA is gathering data on amounts of color additives used in food. These data will be used to estimate dietary exposure for the U.S. population and various population subgroups, including children.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, joins Here & Now’s Sacha Pfeiffer to discuss the potential dangers of artificial dyes and the organization’s initiative to remove them from American candies.

“It’s crazy that American companies are marketing safer products in Europe than they’re doing for their customers back home,” Jacobson said.

Interview Highlights: Michael Jacobson

Why Europe made the switch

“There’s been evidence for almost 40 years that food dyes trigger hyperactivity or inattention in children. About six years ago, the British government sponsored studies that found exactly that, so they urged food companies in Britain to replace synthetic dyes with natural colorings or no added colorings, and many British companies switched over. And then the European Union passed a law requiring that any food that contained the dyes used in those two British studies would have to put a warning notice on, warning consumers that the dyes might trigger hyperactivity. And so with the threat of a warning label, it’s really hard to find these synthetic dyes.”

On American companies that remove dyes overseas, but not at home

“We’ve gone to companies in the U.S. saying, ‘Hey McDonald’s, hey Mars, you’re not using dyes in Europe, but you are using them in exactly the same products in the United States.’ And a good example is, in Britain, McDonald’s has a strawberry sundae, and the only red color comes from the strawberries. Here in the United States, the red color is jacked up with some red dye number 40. McDonald’s doesn’t have to use the dye, but companies like dyes: they’re cheaper, they’re brighter, they’re more stable, and also because sometimes, the naturally colored products aren’t as bright as the synthetically colored products, they’re not as attractive to consumers. But, you know, it’s the kind of thing that consumers simply would get used to very quickly.”

On surprising uses of artificial dyes in some foods, and how to avoid them

“It’s surprising how widely used dyes are. So, there will be yellow dyes in some brands of pickles. Salad dressings have dyes. Mayonnaise is sometimes artificially colored … Remember, it’s made with egg yolks, so there’ll be a little tint of yellow in there … they’re simulating that there’s more egg than is really the case.

“There’s some cake mixes that have carrot bits, but they’re not real carrot bits. It’s hydrogenated oil, sugar, artificial coloring and flavor. You know, the food industry has all these tricks up their sleeve.

“You know, one solution is for people to read labels very carefully. The fronts of labels should indicate when they’re artificially colored, and consumers can go for foods without any labels at all, like real food, real fruits and vegetables.”

Guest

  • Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The organization tweets @CSPI.

Transcript

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

I'm Sacha Pfeiffer. It's HERE AND NOW.

If you've ever eaten candy from the U.K. or any other EU country, you might have noticed some unusual ingredients. For example, Nestle's chocolate Smarties contain radish, lemon and red cabbage for coloring, but not Yellow number 6 or Red number 40. So the Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling on some U.S. food companies to stop using artificial dyes and has petitioned the FDA to regulate food dyes more strictly. Michael Jacobson is the center's executive director, and he's with us to talk about that. Michael, welcome.

MICHAEL JACOBSON: Thank you very much, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: And Michael, in reading about this, I came across this interesting reference to a possible warning that was going to have to go on European candy labels that pushed candy manufacturers to change their ways. Tell us a little bit about that.

JACOBSON: There's been evidence for almost 40 years that food dyes trigger hyperactivity or inattention in children. About six years ago the British government sponsored studies that found exactly that. So they urged food companies in Britain to replace synthetic dyes with natural colorings or no added colorings, and many British companies switched over.

And then the European Union passed a law requiring that any food that contained the dyes used in those two British studies would have to put a warning notice on, warning consumers that the dyes might trigger hyperactivity. And so with the threat of a warning label, it's really hard to find these synthetic dyes anywhere in Europe because companies don't want to put a warning notice on.

PFEIFFER: It was enough to get them to voluntarily switch to more naturally derived dyes.

JACOBSON: That's right. And so we've gone to companies in the United States, saying hey, McDonald's, hey Mars, you're not using dyes in Europe, but you are using them in exactly the same products in the United States. And a good example is in Britain, McDonald's has a strawberry sundae, and the only red color comes from the strawberries. Here in the United States, the red color is jacked up with some red dye number 40.

McDonald's doesn't have to use the dye. But companies like dyes. They're cheaper. They're brighter. They're more stable. And also, because sometimes the naturally colored products aren't as bright as the synthetically colored products, they're not as attractive to consumers. But you know, it's the kind of thing that consumers simply would get used to very quickly.

PFEIFFER: Michael, I have here in the studio two different examples of the same candy made by the same company with different ingredients, depending what country it's sold in. And that's M&M's. I have the American bag here in a little cup of M&M's. And this one has Yellow 6, Blue 1 Lake, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, Red 40 Lake, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

The European version has these little codes that say, like, E100, E133, E160. They may sound like chemicals, but in fact they trace back to things like carotene, you know, the coloring agent - the natural coloring agent in sweet potatoes or carrots. So it's quite interesting when we see these differences. You would like to see all the labels say the same thing?

JACOBSON: That's right. We'd like to see the American products much more like the European products, without these synthetic dyes. And it's crazy that American companies are marketing safer products in Europe than they're doing for their customers back home.

PFEIFFER: So let's say you don't eat Lucky Charms, you don't eat Skittles and you think you're avoiding all these artificial dyes. Are there dyes, I assume, in products that we may not realize that we should be on the lookout for?

JACOBSON: Yeah. It's surprising how widely used dyes are. So there will be yellow dyes in some brands of pickles.

PFEIFFER: Really?

JACOBSON: Salad dressings have dyes. Mayonnaise is sometimes artificially colored.

PFEIFFER: Even mayonnaise, which is white, has artificial color?

JACOBSON: Well, remember, it's made with egg yolks. So there'll be a little tint of yellow in there.

PFEIFFER: So they're bleaching out the yellow.

JACOBSON: Well, they're simulating that there's more egg than is really the case.

(LAUGHTER)

JACOBSON: There are some cake mixes that have carrot bits, but they're not real carrot bits. Its hydrogenated oil, sugar, artificial coloring and flavoring. The food industry has all these tricks up their sleeves, and one solution is for people to read labels very carefully.

PFEIFFER: Although sometimes even the labels don't make it quite clear what's artificial and what's not. So it's challenging.

JACOBSON: Yeah. You have to be a label decoder. So if it said carotene on the label, somebody has to know that that's a natural substance and know that yellow dye number five is a synthetic dye. But dyes should simply be removed from all foods to protect children and protect children whose parents have no idea that dyes really can trigger hyperactivity. You know, it's the responsible public health measure to take, and it's unfortunate that the FDA is dragging its feet.

PFEIFFER: Michael, could you hone in on the health concerns a little more? Because the EU Food Safety Authority has said that studies only show limited evidence of a link between hyperactivity and food dyes, and the FDA has acknowledged that certain behavioral problems may be exacerbated by exposure to certain substances like food dyes. But that hasn't risen to the level of them wanting to ban it. So what's your group's position on the health concern?

JACOBSON: I think the evidence is clear that food dyes trigger hyperactivity in some kids. Food dyes are not the cause of hyperactivity, the underlying cause. But if some - if a child is predisposed to have hyperactive behavior or attention deficit disorder, food dyes can trigger those behaviors. And the Food and Drug Administration, after many years of denying that, in 2011, finally agreed that food dyes and some other substances can trigger hyperactivity.

And then it's a question: Does FDA have the guts to do anything? The Center for Science in the Public Interest believes that if you look at kind of the risk-benefit equation, the balance, there's no benefit from food dyes to the consumer.

PFEIFFER: We should note that these companies say their ingredients are safe, and Mars says that it has absolute confidence in the safety of the ingredients it uses. On the other hand, some companies have gone ahead and removed artificial dyes. I'm thinking of a certain mac and cheese company that recently did that.

JACOBSON: That's right. We're beginning to see a little movement. And Kraft removed synthetic food dyes from several versions of macaroni and cheese. And Yoplait, made by General Mills, has removed food dyes from Trix Yogurts and some Yoplait Go-Gurts, you know, kind of child-oriented products. And that's a great start. And hopefully, we'll see further movement in the industry.

PFEIFFER: That's Michael Jacobson. He's executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Michael, thank you.

JACOBSON: Thank you, Sacha, very much for having me.

PFEIFFER: The FDA, by the way, says there's no causal link between food dye and behavioral problems, and it's currently gathering data on the amount of color additives in food and what levels of exposure are appropriate. We would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think U.S. food companies should switch to natural dyes? And how worried are you, if at all, about artificial colorings in what you eat? Let us know at hereandnow.org. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • KoKotheTalkingApe

    Great issue, great reporting, but the piece doesn’t actually address the question of why artificial colors are allowed in the US but not in Europe. I would guess the answer is that corporate interests have a larger say in public policy in the US than they do in Europe. In other words, Europe is more democratic than the US.

  • S David H de Lorge

    Let me put aside the assertions that various dyes and so forth have bad health effects. Do these imitation foods have any nutritional value?

    Beet juice is red because of the pigment. That pigment is a potent, healthful antioxidant. It is a real food nutrient with measurable value. Same goes for most of the other food-based additives mentioned here.

    Perhaps focus should be put on the actual food value of natural food colorings, rather than distracting the whole issue with attacks on artificial dyes which will be sure to inspire denial and attack responses. The heart of the topic then gets lost in the “controversy.” Why not emphasize the heart of the issue instead?

  • woodnymph

    Very important issue. I used to work at an early morning play center and there were children who could not consume the snacks we provided because of the artificial sugars and colors as well. Granted this is an isolated incident with my opinions based on how loud their child would scream when they had a toy taken away…XD
    But regardless, if European consumers can deal with a ban on artificial colors, the US can as well.

  • http://germanjewishcuisine.wordpress.com rossjude

    Megna asked whether we believe artificial colorants should be removed from foods. Anyone who has concern for children – never mind adults – couldn’t possibly want to continue using artificial colors after hearing this show. The only advantage is to the corporate food makers who want to sell as much as possible at the lowest cost possible. That is obviously not an advantage to the consumer. So yes, get rid of them.

  • Preyjorntez Esquire-Jones

    I just finished listening to the radio broadcast concerning this issue. I believe that people who are in the food industry have an ethical obligation to take the precautions necessary to protect their consumers. If there is any question raised about the safety of particular ingredients, then other ones should be used instead. Unnatural food dyes–in any type of food–are not really necessary. I am sure that there are enough intelligent individuals in this arena who can brainstorm safer ways of creating food products, without having to compromise quality and appeal. :)

  • Steve Smith

    I believe the biggest users of food dyes will reconsider their positions if their customers demand it. I don’t know want it to be necessary to regulate food dyes out of the food chain.

    The only way to get what you want is to ask for it. And to get a large number of customers to ask or demand it, we need education.

    Thank to WBUR for bringing up the topic (as many others have), and getting folks educated on the issue!

    I’m big on voting with my dollar. When I’m in the supermarket I look at the ingredients in the foods when making my selections.

    If even 20% more of shoppers did this, I don’t think we’d have a lot of the ingredients in our foods that we have today.

    • Guest

      You brought up a good point about consumers consciously seeking out and choosing foods without unnecessary ingredients. I think the problem is that often people do not take the time to read food labels. If they do, some of them may feel that there are no other options–that you take a risk whenever you eat anything that is not homemade. Still, I think that it is great that we have access to information like this. At least, this way, we can make an informed decision about what to feed our families. :)

  • d_arcy_2

    Mr. Jacobson is clearly a man with way, W-A-Y too nuch time on his hands.
    If the EU’s primary export weren’t (useless) regulations this subject wouldn’t evn have come up.

  • Sarah N

    Finally, I heard for the first time a discussion on artificial food dyes, however it could go a bit further. Why the difference between US and Europe? Relatives in Sweden explained to me that artificial food dyes are considered toxins, therefore they were illegal there.
    In addition to AHAD, it triggers severe migraine headaches in many people. Family members and some colleagues, including myself, formerly had horribly incapacitating migraine headaches included vomiting. Once I connected the illness with the artificial dyes, I learned to avoid anything with red or yellow artificial dyes among other things, and have avoided migraines for over 40 years now. Food dyes predominate the food and pharmaceutical industry.

    Please have more on this subject.

  • Beth Aaron

    Yes, it’s a start. As a student researching diet and disease, the issue of food and illness is much deeper than this program explores. Two foods mentioned were mac and cheese and yogurt, both made from cows milk. What about asking ourselves why we have turned the cow into the wet nurse for humankind?
    The program had a perfectly good opportunity to bring up that not only should artificial substances be removed from food, but what is considered healthy FOOD is also being debated off the radar of venues such as this. Besides dyes, what about meat filled with nitrates, hormone residues, antibiotic residues, virulent strains of bacteria’s, or animal products being sprayed with live viruses to kill bacteria as well as the use of ammonia gas to preserve color?

    What about a good and unbiased discussion about dairy in our diet at ALL?? Female mammal produces milk during pregnancy for THAT species, which includes the perfect amounts of protein, carbs, fat and sugar and growth hormones for THAT infant, nursed until WEANED, so why do we consume another species milk at all? Why? Because massive global industries have been built on looking at cows as commodities, and their calves born to them as by products of that commodity.
    What about feeding children the milk for calves, milk that when digested, forms an opiate like compound that affects moods, behavior, and more, casomorphin-7?
    What about interviewing doctors who use “nutritional medicine” , hardly taught in our drug culture medical complex, to PREVENT MOST diseases as well as behavioral issues that begin at conception as the developing fetus is nourished through the placenta, FEEDING TUBE? Dr. Michael Klaper, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Essylstyn Jr., Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Michael Greger….They have the answers to America’s disease problems, ALL rooted in our food system that manifests the polar opposite of what a food system’s mission must be, to provide OPTIMAL nutrients for optimal heath. It is clear to me that the USDA,FDA, EPA do what is necessary to ensure solvency for the industries that have led to skyrocketing rates of disease and equally high rates of children with special needs, both assisting in municipal bankruptcy.

  • JaneH

    Very few consumers know that — not only are these fake dyes made from petroleum, but they are legally allowed to be contaminated with toxins like lead, mercury and arsenic. Today, most of the dyes in our food start out at petroleum refineries in China.
    I have seen the damage that a small amount of dye can cause. My daughter would go “bonkers” and my husband would have a 3-day migraine so severe all he could do was lie in bed.
    These additives have been found to cause many problems, including cancer. This means they are illegal, but instead of being a watchdog, protecting the consumer, the FDA has become the lap dog of wealthy industries.
    For a small increase in their profits most food companies in this country continue to add these toxins to the food (and medicines) given to young children.

  • Conrad

    Greetings,

    I’m surprised that the Mr. Jacobson didn’t point out that the point of putting the food dies into the food isn’t just that consumers “like” them: it makes them irresistible to eat, so consumers will eat more. You can read something about that here:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/03/weekinreview/03harris.html

    One other commenter wrote:
    “I believe that people who are in the food industry have an ethical
    obligation to take the precautions necessary to protect their consumers.”

    The food industry is clearly more concerned with making money than with protecting their customers, which in this case are two things at odds with each other.

  • LI Nday

    I would like to see American food providers eliminate artificial colors…much as they do in Europe.

  • SirLee_V

    The anti-science woo is strong here. Here and Now should invite an organic chemist on to debunk this malarkey.

    Here is a good start: http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2013/06/21/eight_toxic_foods_a_little_chemical_education.php

  • A.O.

    Thank you for a great discussion. There IS great tasting candy available is
    the US without, artificial colors and flavors! Ask our local retailer to
    sell it and vote with your wallet. Get UnReal http://getunreal.com/our-story

  • KWS

    As one who is allergic to artificial yellow dye (#s 4, 5, 6 & 10), my life is dictated and limited by the information I am able to find on food and medication labels. Diligence has become a way of life for me, especially when the allergy screening programs of drugstore pharmacies do not recognize inert ingredients. I am all for regulating the use of artificial dyes used in food and medications.

  • RAOUL

    Is this topic a joke? Answer: Yes!

    • RAOUL2

      you are the only joke lol

  • Bryan

    We have the same problem in Canada that is in the US. My daughter is impacted in a big way. http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzs8y0RW91OZqXgrce_rf8ocZPFCePsNc

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