Before it ever crossed my mind to be concerned about organics or The Dirty Dozen or food miles, I was concerned about the food dyes in my boys’ food. I chose yogurt with natural food dyes and made sure that the juices I bought my boys didn’t contain any coloring that had a number associated with it (Yellow 5, Red 40, etc.).
What triggered the concern for me was a dirty diaper. I was changing the diaper of a friend’s daughter, and what was inside was bright blue. I’m not kidding you. I mentioned to my friend that she might want to take her daughter to the doctor because something was obviously wrong, and she told me it was fine. Her daughter would only eat this one certain blue yogurt, and the interesting-colored diaper was the aftereffect. I thought to myself, “This cannot be good.”
I wasn’t perfect about eliminating all the artificial dyes — there have been plenty of boxes of fluorescent orange mac and cheese served in my house over the years. Imagine my surprise, however, when I found out that mac and cheese doesn’t glow so brightly in many parts of Europe.
The Yellow 5 found in a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in the United States isn’t in a box sold in the European Union. It’s not outlawed, but if it was in there, Kraft would be required to put a warning label on the box that says, “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” In Europe, Kraft and other companies decide it’s worth it to spend a few fractions of a penny more to use natural food dyes than to lose customers who wouldn’t buy their children food with that label on it.
You won’t find any labels like that on food in the United States, at least not yet. In response to a petition that the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed with the Federal Drug Administration in 2008, the FDA will “convene an advisory committee meeting to discuss the link between food dyes and children’s behavior.”
A government advisory committee sitting down to discuss a possible problem seems light years away from actually addressing the problem, but it’s a start.
If I could sit on the FDA committee, in addition to looking at the studies that show the correlation between food dyes and children’s behavior, I would tell them to talk to parents, teachers and caregivers. I would tell them about the look in my 8-year-old’s eyes that’s kind of manic after he drinks a beverage with artificial red dye in it. I would tell them about that diaper. I would tell them I would gladly pay a few extra pennies for a product that had natural dyes in it, and that I already do it now.