A panel of experts on Thursday narrowly voted against urging the U.S. government to add warnings to food dye labels, but did recommend further study into alleged links to hyperactivity in children.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which took up the controversial issue after appeals from a leading consumer group, is not required to follow the recommendations of the independent expert panel, though it often does.
Of the 14 committee members voting, 79 percent agreed "that a causal relationship between consumption of certified color additives in food and hyperactivity in children in the general population has not been established."
But 93 percent of the panel agreed more studies were necessary to determine whether eating artificially dyed foods is linked to behavioral problems in young people — and to assess under what conditions the dyes are safe.
On the question of whether "additional information should be disclosed on the product label of foods containing certified color additives to ensure their safe use," 43 percent said yes and 57 percent said no, according to a breakdown of the vote sent to AFP by FDA spokesman Douglas Karas.
After years defending the dyes — which come in sodas, cereals, and other foods — as harmless, the FDA agreed to review the matter at the urging of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a powerful consumer group.
"We reviewed the studies and we don't see a direct, strong link, although certain children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) may have a sensitivity to some substances," said Karas ahead of the vote.
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, on Wednesday applauded the FDA decision to consider the evidence.
"I'm glad that after many years of denial, the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the evidence linking synthetic food dyes to behavioral problems in children," he said.
"Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and other dyes have no useful nutritional or preservative value; their only function is cosmetic. And by cosmetic I mean that dyes are often used to make junk food more attractive to young children, or to simulate the presence of a healthful fruit or other natural ingredient."
The dyes are even placed in foods like mashed potatoes and pickles to make them seem more appealing to consumers, he said.
"The evidence that these petrochemicals worsen some children's behavior is convincing, and I hope that the FDA's advisory committee will advise the agency to both require warning notices and encourage companies voluntarily to switch to safer natural colorings," he said.
European law requires most foods containing dyes to carry warning labels.
According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the available evidence does not support the need for a change to U.S. regulations.
"All of the major safety bodies globally have reviewed the available science and have determined that there is no demonstrable link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity among children," the association said in a statement.
The FDA, which did not consider a ban of artificial color dyes as part of this review, banned FD&C Red No. 2 in 1976 because it was believed to contain a cancer causing agent. It has been replaced with a dye called FD&C Red No. 40.