I see your true colors shining through...

November 14, 2013

Kraft makes a move to remove artificial colors from macaroni and cheese products. Will other brands follow?

Last March, in an effort to encourage Kraft Foods to remove artificial coloring from their iconic Macaroni and Cheese product, two food bloggers started a petition that has gained signatures of over 350,000 supporters. Although the company claims the petition is not the reason for the change, the company recently announced they will be eliminating these dyes from three of their kid-friendly Macaroni and Cheese products. 

Artificial colors in processed foods are quite difficult to avoid. Take a trip to the supermarket, and take a look at what common products contain artificial colors that are banned or come with a warning label in many other countries. Without calling out any brand names, here are some examples. 

Macaroni and Cheese - Yellow 5, Yellow 6

Strawberry Yogurt - Red 40

Pickles - Yellow 5

Blueberry Cereal Bars - Red 40, Blue 1

Candy - Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 6, Yellow 5

Food colorings have been used for centuries. (Check out NPR's story from last week about the history of artificial coloring in cheese). Synthetic food colorings came about because natural food colorings used long ago could contain unsafe levels of mercury, copper or arsenic. However synthetic food coloring has raised a history of concerns dating back to 1906 when the Pure Food and Drugs Act brought about the beginning of restrictions on these ingredients. Since then the list of legal synthetic colors has dwindled from around 80 to seven. 

Most recently and widely publicized are questions about whether or not artificial colors cause hyperactivity in children and contribute to ADHD. A study in the United Kingdom in 2007 looked at the relationship of behavior and food dyes and found children that drank beverages with artificial colors exhibited more hyperactivity. 

The past decade we have seen many brands make moves to voluntarily remove trans fats from their products (now facing being banned by the FDA), High Fructose Corn Syrup, and also artificial colors. With Kraft taking the leap of removing dyes from such an iconic product, The Lempert Report feels that it is likely other brands will follow. And although it is possible those seven legal colorings may not be headed for banishment by the government, watch for more voluntarily elimination of these dyes and more use of natural alternatives to color popular processed foods.