Sunday, August 1, 2010


Making food attractive is an age old practice and use of several dyes in processed foods often raised questions regarding their need and safety. Even though the dyes presently used in many countries are permitted by the safety authorities there is an increasing concern regarding their long terms consequences especially amongst the children. While some countries have gone in for more stringent regulations regarding their use, in many other countries a few such dyes are still allowed giving them the benefit of doubt. But consumer activists who are in the forefront in fighting for a total ban on synthetic coloring matters have valid grounds for such a stand, if the available evidence is taken into account. Though protagonists of color use may take the stand that such evidences as of now are not conclusive, the benefit of doubt has to be given to these studies on synthetic colors and their health implications, risk taking is not being a choice anymore when it comes to food safety.

"Chemical dyes used for food coloring carry serious health risks and should be banned, says a new report from a consumer group. The group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), notes that none of the nine artificial food dyes approved for U.S. use have been proven safe. However, human and animal studies suggest that at least several of the chemicals carry health risks. "For a food additive that does not provide any health or safety benefit whatsoever, there should be a very strict standard for safety. Food dyes do not meet that standard," CSPI Executive Director and study co-author Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, tells Web MD. "These colors carry risks," says Bernard Weiss, PhD, professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester. "The question for parents is this: Is it worth taking even minimal risks for benefits that do not exist?" Weiss was not involved in the CSPI report. However, in 1980 he reported clinical studies showing that food dyes can cause behavioral problems in children. Currently, the European Union is considering taking action over this issue. In 2008, the CSPI asked the FDA to ban the dyes because studies linked them to hyperactivity-like behavioral effects in children. Now the group points to animal studies suggesting that the dyes -- and other chemicals bound to them -- can cause cancer. Jacobson admits that most the studies of food dyes are of poor quality. But that, he says, is part of the problem. "The FDA has not looked at the safety of food dyes in 15 or 20 years," Jacobson says. "To accept widely used dyes that have these bound carcinogens is shameful."

Use of chemical colorants does make any food more desirable and acceptable. In a competitive environment it is but natural that each manufacturer uses the technological tools to use different colors in varying combinations to give a hue more appealing than that of the competitor. Probably banning of all chemical colorants may give a level playing field with no undue advantage to any one. The earliest incidence of ban of artificial color was against its use in tomato products and the way industry responded to this situation is a lesson that cannot be ignored easily. Within a short period after the ban, tomato varieties with intense natural red color and stability under thermal processing were evolved making use of external colorants redundant. It is certain that industry will be able to survive a total ban on artificial colors too in a way with least economic damage.

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