Artificial Colors Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6 Called the ‘Rainbow of Risk’: So, Where’s the Pot of Gold?

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They’ve been called the “rainbow of risk” by the Centers for Science in the Public Interest: a group of artificial colors that include Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40.

In fact, in England and elsewhere in Europe, food dyes like these must carry a notice informing parents that the dye may impact a child’s concentration and attention.

In 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, “For preventing the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or misbranded or poisonous or deleterious foods…” It specifically banned food dyes and artificial colors that were dangerous for human consumption. 

Over time more and more artificial flavors were banned, like Orange 1 in 1950. And today we’re left with 7 FDA-approved colors, that are increasingly coming under fire from health advocates. Yellow 5, for example, is currently undergoing tests from the Food and Drug Administration because of links to hyperactivity, anxiety, and migraines. The link between artificial colors and behavioral problems is growing more concerning.

Renee Shutters, a mother of two from Jamestown, N.Y., says that by eliminating certain foods from her son Trenton’s diet, especially petroleum-based food dyes like Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, his behavioral and focus problems improved and today he excels at school and in sports. “I know for sure I found the root cause of this one because you can turn it on and off like a switch,” Ms. Shutters said to the New York Times.

Shutters started a petition on asking Mars to phase out artificial colors from its candies and confections. For example, M&M’s in Britain are made with natural colors while in the U.S., they are still made with artificial colors.

The most popular artificial color, Red 40, is also highly controversial. According to a CSPI report, “the most-widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of immune-system tumors in mice. The dye causes hypersensitivity (allergy-like) reactions in a small number of consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children. Considering the safety questions and its non-essentiality, Red 40 should be excluded from foods unless and until new tests clearly demonstrate its safety.”

But there’s hope. In the U.S., many popular products rely on artificial colors but even still, many companies are taking a different approach. For example, using annatto color, it’s a natural food coloring made from the ground up seed pods of the annatto tree. Also, more and more candies are using naturally derived colors and flavors.

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