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Why Are Artificial Colors and Flavors Still in Our Food?

Ilana Newman is a freshman at Wesleyan University. She plans on majoring in environmental studies and history. She is passionate about food allergy education and sustainability, especially in the area of food justice. She is a member of Real Food Challenge, an organization that promotes the use of local, fair, ecologically sound and humane food on campus.

As an individual with allergies to artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, I’ve often been deceived by a “natural” product whose bright color or fresh taste actually comes from an artificial dye or preservative. Time and time again, I’ve received “natural product” recommendations from friends, only to discover the "farm fresh" cider contains potassium sorbate, and the lipsticks from the “natural” makeup company contain red dye #40. So, I got ridiculously excited when I read that Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, announced it would remove artificial colors and flavors from all its chocolate candy sold in the U.S. by the end of 2015.

Americans deserve the same health and safety standards as Europeans do. It is time for Americans to stand up for their health, and show the major food companies that they truly care about what goes into their food, and bodies.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Science has provided overwhelming evidence proving the dangers of artificial colors and flavors. In 2007, a group of government funded UK researchers conducted a study and concluded that artificial colors result in increased hyperactivity in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children.

Most importantly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that the artificial colors Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, showed signs of causing cancer in lab animals and that Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40, are contaminated with known carcinogens linked to various forms of cancer. However, the FDA has still approved all six for human consumption. In a country where it is all too common for corporate interests to trump human health, it’s truly commendable that Nestlé took the first step in eliminating these dangerous additives.

However, we must recognize that this change was slow in coming and that Nestlé's peers have yet to revise their ingredient lists. Artificial colors are banned in the UK and require warning labels throughout the EU. Candy companies are definitely aware of the dangers posed by artificial colors; in response to the EU ban, Mars Inc. voluntarily switched to naturally sourced dyes for the European market. Nestlé has also been using natural colors in the European market for years.

Americans deserve the same health and safety standards as Europeans do. Nestlé has made a good start, but still too many products unnecessarily depend on artificial colors and flavors. It is time for Americans to stand up for their health, and show the major food companies that they truly care about what goes into their food, and bodies. Let’s all work to create a safer food system for all.

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