I get many samples in the mail that I ask my boys to taste test. Five years ago, it was exciting for them to taste test chocolate sandwich cookies or cheddar cheese crackers. Now, when a package arrives in the mail, they hope it’s wine because I can’t make them taste it. The novelty has definitely worn off.

But, last week a package of M&M’s arrived in the mail, and my boys were more than happy to sample them. The package was sent by Renee Shutters, a mom who is an advocate for the removal petroleum-based food dyes in foods. The M&M’s she sent weren’t from the United States; they were from England. They are colored with safer, natural colorings instead of petroleum-based dyes. The ones made in the U.S. contain colorings like Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 – all made from petroleum products.

My boys think the M&M’s from England are really good, better even than the ones they’ve had from the U.S. So if the candy from England tastes as good or better, and the dyes are more natural, why does Mars use petroleum-based dyes that can be harmful to behavior and health in the U.S. M&M’s? Shutters says it’s because the petroleum-based dyes are less expensive.

The issue is important to her because her son was having behavioral and scholastic problems until they removed petroleum-based dyes from his diet. His problems improved very quickly after they were eliminated the artificial colors from the foods he ate. I know that my youngest son has a sensitivity to foods made with red dye. I don’t buy foods made with artificial dyes very often, but I could always tell when I’d pick him up from a birthday party or his after school club if he’d been given something with red dye. His behavior would be different and he’d have a specific look in his eyes.

Shutters, along with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has started a petition on Change.org asking M&M’s candies to stop using artificial dyes that are linked to hyperactivity. She needs 200,000 signatures to be able to deliver the petition; she has over 150,000 already.

If you’re concerned about the artificial dyes in foods, consider putting your name on the petition. As we’ve seen recently with Cheerios, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and Gatorade, these consumer petitions can make a difference when it comes to getting companies to remove harmful ingredients from their products.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Tell Mars, Inc. to ditch the petroleum-based dyes in M&M’s
Here’s how to petition Mars, Inc. to ditch the petroleum-based food dyes.