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Food Ingredients

California analysis reignites synthetic food dye concerns

by Britt E. Erickson
April 25, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 15


Photo of brightly colored cupcakes.
Credit: Shutterstock
Consumer advocacy groups are urging the Food and Drug Administration to update limits on artificial food dyes to address the potential for behavioral effects in children.

Synthetic food dyes, commonly added to brighten the color of foods, beverages, vitamins, and over-the-counter drugs, are associated with adverse neurobehavioral effects in children, confirms an assessment by the California Environmental Protection Agency. The analysis renews pressure on the US Food and Drug Administration to update acceptable daily intake levels for synthetic food dyes. The FDA established current limits between the 1960s and 1980s. The new assessment, conducted by CalEPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, finds that some children are more susceptible than others to adverse behavioral effects from artificial food dyes, suggesting genetics is a risk factor for such effects. Consumer advocacy groups, which have been urging the FDA for many decades to address the link between synthetic food dyes and behavioral effects in children, welcome the report. “This is the most comprehensive study of the behavioral effects of synthetic food dyes ever conducted,” Lisa Lefferts, senior scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says in a statement. “Now is the time to turn from science to action,” she says.


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