The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Ben Lilliston, 612-870-3416,

Have a Happier Valentine's Day

New Consumer Web Tool to Find Children’s Foods & Candies Without Synthetic Dyes


Approaching Valentine's Day, consumers are surrounded with candies and
processed foods containing synthetic food dyes. Increasingly, these dyes have been found
to increase hyperactivity and other disturbed behavior in children. Two new consumer tools
from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) help parents make smart choices
about foods not containing brain toxins.

"The latest science indicates that even modest amounts of synthetic food dyes can af-
fect learning in children," said David Wallinga, M.D., Director of IATP's Food and Health
program. "Parents shouldn't have to be chemists to find healthy food that helps growing
brains. We can do better."

IATP's web-based Brain Food SelectorTM ( is a database that
helps parents easily find which foods contain synthetic dyes. Parents can search by brand,
product type or food dye. IATP's Smart Guide to Food Dyes describes why synthetic food
dyes are used, associated children's health concerns and what parents can do.

Synthetic food dyes, mostly petroleum-derived, are unnecessary. FDA-approved uses for
synthetic food dyes include: making foods more fun (e.g., Valentine's sprinkles or brightly
colored candies); coloring for otherwise colorless foods (e.g., lime sherbet); and enhancing
natural color. Synthetic food dyes are used in a number of foods such as Fruit Loops and
popsicles, but also butter, the skins of fruit and the casings of hot dogs. Synthetic dyes are
especially common in foods marketed to children, including candies, many foods, dress-
ings, treats, and dipping sauces at fast food outlets.

The industrialization of the food system helps account for the increase in food additives
such as food dyes, preservatives and sweeteners. The high degree of food processing,
which exposes foods to high temperatures, light, air and moisture, leads to an increased
loss of natural color. Post-processing, synthetic dyes are often added to offset color loss.

During the last three decades, repeated studies have concluded that modest doses of
synthetic dyes added to foods can provoke hyperactivity and other disturbed behavior
in children. In April 2008, Britain's Food Standards Agency advised the food industry to
voluntarily ban the use of six common synthetic food dyes by 2009. Some companies now
sell two versions of their products: one without synthetic food dyes for the UK, and a U.S.
version that includes such dyes.

"The good news is that there are safer alternatives to synthetic food dyes and many food
companies are already making the switch," said Dr. Wallinga. "We need the food industry
and U.S. government agencies to catch up with the latest science and start protecting our
children. Until then, parents need to be armed with information when they go shopping."

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems.