After petitioning the FDA in 2008 to ban eight of the nine FDA-approved dyes, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (“CSPI”) requested that the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) convene to address the use of such additives. On March 30, 2011, the FDA’s Food Advisory Committee conducted a two-day conference to determine the nexus between food dye consumption and hyperactivity in children. At the meeting, the Food Advisory Committee voted and determined the evidence was too inconclusive to require warning labels on food that contained specific types of dyes and color additives. Although the FDA is not bound by this determination, it will likely follow the committee’s findings.

The FDA commissioned this conference based on numerous studies demonstrating behavioral problems in children as a result of food dye consumption. Since 1970, with the introduction of the Feingold diet which recommended the elimination of certain dyes and additives in children’s diets, studies have attempted to show a connection between hyperactivity in children and their consumption of certain food color additives. The Southampton Study, funded by the Food Standards Agency and conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton, involved children ranging from 3 to 9 years old. Over a six week period, the children periodically consumed a beverage with a mixture of food color additives, sodium benzoate or fruit juice. The results demonstrated that the children who consumed the food color additive mixture experienced significant hyperactivity.

The Southampton Study, however, has been questioned. The European Food Safety Authority, for example, concluded that the Southampton Study failed to provide scientific evidence that a link between additives and ADHD existed. Their assessment noted that the Southampton Study failed to test the additives individually but instead used mixtures. It was thus inconclusive as to which additive created a change in behavior. Also, the Southampton Study failed to take into account outside variables that could have resulted in the change in the child’s behavior.

In 2008, the European Union’s Environment Committee voted to ban artificial colors in foods for small children. In 2010, the European Union required warning labels on food that contained any of the color additives analyzed in the Southampton Study. United States foodmakers that sell food products in Europe have removed dyes and replaced them with natural colorings. For example, Lunchables, M&M’S, Skittles, and Pop-Tarts sold in the United Kingdom no longer contain some dyes and artificial flavors.1

Although the FDA has the authority to impose warning labels on food to prevent labeling from being misleading, the FDA is unlikely to adopt a position contrary to the recommendation of the Food Advisory Committee and impose warning labels on foods that contain dyes and artificial flavors. While the effects of dyes and artificial flavoring in foods on children's behavior has increased consumer's interests, the FDA is not compelled to act given the inconclusive scientific evidence of harmful effects.

1Lunchables is a registered trademark of Kraft Foods, Inc.  M&MS and Skittles are a registered trademark of Mars, Inc. and Pop-Tarts is a registered trademark of Kellogg Company.