Mars Should Stop Harming Kids by Coloring M&M's with Artificial Food Dyes, Says CSPI

In Europe, Most of the Colorings in M&M's are Natural

October 16, 2013

A new petition on asks Mars, the maker of M&M's candies, to stop coloring its products with petroleum-based artificial food dyes. Sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Renee Shutters, a mother of two from Jamestown, New York, the petition underscores the connection between artificial dyes and hyperactivity in children.

Shutters is a member of the Feingold Association, a group that promotes the use of an elimination diet to treat hyperactivity and other symptoms in children, focusing especially on the removal of artificial food dyes from the diet. Her son Trenton, age 9, used to exhibit hyperactive behavior and had difficulty focusing at school and hockey practice. After two days on the Feingold diet Trenton's behavior improved dramatically, according to Ms. Shutters.

"Before he started the Feingold diet, Trenton was easily distracted at school and hockey practice. He was angry and disruptive and had trouble sitting through dinner or falling asleep at night," said Shutters. "We decided to remove artificial dyes from his diet, and after two days of eating that way, his attitude and behavior improved greatly. Now, he brings light into the classroom and makes everybody laugh. Trenton excels in academics and sports, and he couldn't have done it without this diet."

Numerous controlled studies have concluded that some children's behavior is worsened by artificial dyes. A 2004 meta-analysis affirmed that artificial dyes increase hyperactivity. The United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency has urged food companies remove dyes from their products based on two studies that it commissioned, on top of all the earlier evidence, and that found that mixtures of dyes adversely affect the behavior of ordinary kids (not kids thought to be sensitive). The European Union then required foods that contain any of the dyes used in those two British studies to bear a warning label. Those dyes include Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6—the three most widely dyes in the United States and Canada. Partly as a result of that action, very few foods in Europe contain the dyes and bear the warning notice. M&M's in America contain Blue 1, Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6.

In 2008, CSPI petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban food dyes or at least require warning notices on packages. While the FDA acknowledged in 2011 that dyes can impair the behavior of some children, it has done nothing to get them out of the food supply.

"Renee and Trenton are not alone," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "Thousands of families have discovered that getting dyes out of their kids' diets improves the way the kids feel and behave. As the maker of the best-selling candy in the country, Mars should get these neurotoxic chemicals out of M&M's. In Europe, Mars has already eliminated most of the dyes, and the candies are just as brightly colored."

M&M's are one of many foods that use artificial dyes in the U.S. version, but mostly or only natural colorings in the European counterpart. Like the American candy, European M&M's do include Blue 1, the use of which does not require a warning label. In response to a petition filed by Mars in January 2012, the FDA recently approved spirulina extract as the first natural blue dye in the United States.

"We hope that this is an indication that Mars intends to do the responsible thing and remove all of these harmful dyes from all of its products. Of course, other companies should do the same," said Jacobson. "And parents should not give Halloween trick-or-treaters any foods with dyes, because some of those children will be harmed by them."


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