Food Dye Bill Approved For Research, Not Labeling

Meagan McGinnes

A California bill addressing the potential dangers of synthetic food dyes on children has passed, but with a major amendment. The bill was proposed in March by State Senator Bob Wieckowski, a Democrat, to require warning labels on all food containing synthetic dyes. However, it was amended from a label bill to a study bill “in order to keep the issue moving forward and to raise awareness,” according to Wieckowski’s communication director Jeff Barbosa.

Scientists at California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment will conduct an independent review of the evidence by December 2018 and then provide advice to legislature by July 2019. Senator Weickowski told NOSH he amended the bill to provide more information for not only parents, but his colleagues. The bill was passed 7-2.

“I amended SB 504 to a study bill because I want my colleagues to be comfortable with the scientific research before requiring labels,” Weickowski said. “After 30 double-blind studies and a growing consensus among physicians and researchers that excluding food dyes reduces adverse behavior in some children, I think labels are the right way to go.”

Weickowski said after he reads the review’s conclusions, he will decide whether to bring the labeling component of the bill back to the state. He noted he is “optimistic that the OEHHA’s study will eventually lead to the Legislature approving labels.” If passed as a labeling bill, the law would be the first of its kind in any state.

In March Wieckowski told NOSH he expected to see resistance from both food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers regarding the logistics and costs associated with labeling or reformulating their products. However, Weickowski said the decision to amend the bill was not related to these concerns.

“I do believe the market trend is toward removing dyes from these foods altogether. Many brands are already being proactive and doing that for their customers. If they are not proactive, we will review our options when the study is concluded,” he said.


Senate Health Committee approves Wieckowski bill

to study dangers of synthetic food dyes on children

SB 504 calls for state office to conduct independent review

of evidence and options for the Legislature

Sacramento – The Senate Health Committee today approved a bill by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) to direct a state agency to review scientific literature on the risk synthetic food dyes pose to some children and what steps, if any, the state should take to protect the public health. Longstanding health concerns about food dyes have led to warning labels on most dyed foods in Europe and many companies are removing dyes from their products.

“Most parents are unaware of synthetic dyes’ potential effects on their children’s well-being,” Senator Wieckowski said. “They know their children are acting out, but are unaware that in many cases it is because of the artificial ingredients in their fruit flavor snacks or drink mixes. A study can help us raise awareness that children with Attention Deficit/Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD) are likely more at risk of adverse behavior as a result of these products. Parents should be made aware so they can make informed purchasing decisions.”

SB 504 directs the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) by Dec. 1, 2018 to review existing published, peer-reviewed scientific literature on the risks to children and report to the Legislature by July 1, 2019. The OEHHA is the lead state agency for assessment of health risks posed by environmental contaminants.

There’s a growing consensus among physicians and researchers that excluding food dyes reduces adverse behavior in some children. About 30 double blind studies have investigated the effects of synthetic dyes and other suspect additives. Companies such as Mars, Nestle, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Heinz, Frito-Lay, Dunkin’ Brands Group (owner of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins) and others, are eliminating synthetic dyes from some or all of their products.

“California frequently leads the nation on pressing public health concerns, such as calorie disclosure on restaurant menus and artificial trans fat,” said Lisa Y. Lefferts, senior scientist with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the bill’s co-sponsor. “We need California to lead again on food dyes.”

CSPI estimates that almost 40,000 children in California are affected by food dyes. About 2,000 people contacted CSPI to describe how dyes affected their kids.

Heather Knape told the committee that artificial colors can intensify the symptoms of ADHD in her son, who experienced problems after snacking on peanut M&Ms.

“(He) was uncharacteristically irritable, uncooperative and inconsolable,” she said. “He refused to help cook (usually a favorite activity), demanded the first piece of bacon, and his ADHD symptoms were kicked up into hyperdrive: impulsivity, overreaction to frustration, inability to consider the consequences of his actions. He was miserable, and it was affecting everyone around him, too.”

It was days later when Knape learned about the link between synthetic food dyes and children with ADHD. But staying away from the products is not easy.

“Foods with artificial color are really hard to avoid,” she said. “Friends serve them at parties, kids share them at school, and teachers give them out as rewards.”

Dr. Mark Horton, the former director of the California Department of Public Health, who supports the bill, agreed.

“Synthetic dyes are ubiquitous in foods marketed to kids,” he said. “All children, especially those not living near a quality grocery store, likely consume processed foods of low nutritional quality that contain dyes.”

The bill is also co-sponsored by the Children’s Advocacy Institute and is supported by many public health, consumer and environmental organizations.

Senator Wieckowski represents the 10th District, which includes parts of Alameda and Santa Clara counties.

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