Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Hue And Cry

When they banned Red number 2
It seemed the candy world turned blue
Though red M&M’s, in truth, had never used it
But they dropped their favorite color
And the children’s days got duller
Just in case the buying public had confused it

We fast forward to today:
Will our favorite foods turn gray
Due to fear (which spreads more quickly than a cancer)
That an artificial yellow
Might put poison in your Jell-o?
So we cast about us, searching for an answer

Are the dyes amongst our diet
Problematic? Some imply it,
But experiment’s the better way to know
Loving parents have detected
The effects that they’ve expected
When they’re tested double-blind, the answer’s no

I’m not knee-jerk prejudicial
Cos a color’s artificial
Though I understand the public hue and cry
I would rather put reliance
On the ways and means of science
So, for now, at least, I say “Live Free and Dye”

As is often the case, the commentary around the issue is as interesting as the issue itself.  After the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the government to put warning labels on foods containing artificial dyes, the Food and Drug Administration reviewed the evidence.  Their expert panel concluded that there is nothing inherently dangerous in the dyes, and since foods are already labeled with information about the presence of dyes, individuals who are particularly sensitive have the information they need.  

The New York Times article, to my eye anyway, reports the results fairly dispassionately.  Other sources, though, reveal the emotionally charged views that led to the CSPI petition in the first place.  The Atlantic, for instance, while reporting the FDA's findings, ask "Is It Right?" and claim that "Food dyes have only one purpose: to sell junk foods."  Looking around the store, that would imply a very wide definition of "junk foods".  A different NYTimes article notes that the color of our food is intimately involved in our taste perception of it--junk or not.  

An interesting reaction at the Baltimore Sun (edit--thanks, Ridger!), while acknowledging the FDA findings, spends the article looking at more natural alternatives to artificial dyes.  My question (only out of bemusement, not concern) is whether the natural colors they use have been tested anywhere near as rigorously as the artificial dyes they aim to replace.


Unknown said...

If you are eating foods that have the dyes in question, you probably don't really worry about what you eat anyway.

Melissa said...

Dyes are in lots of food, Eric, not just the junk. Lots of professional chefs and home cooks use dyes for presentation and to make the dining experience more enjoyable. So, it's not just a candy thing (although pixie sticks are a main part of my diet). I've used dyes in healthy dishes just for fun.

I'm not worried about dyes if the evidence isn't against them. I worry more about too much salt. It makes me itchy.

The Ridger, FCD said...

It's the Baltimore Sun, Cuttle.

When I was in college (nearly 40 years ago) there was an attempt to feed hens ... something, can't remember what. At any rate, the egg yolks turned various colors (our preferred yellow is governed by what the hens eat). People swore blind the eggs "tasted bad", even though they couldn't ID them blindfolded. No one would cook them, so the feed went by the wayside. Color is important.

Anonymous said...

I used to have a set of Childcraft Encyclopedias when I was a kid (it was from the mid '60s probably) and I recall there being articles in there about the history of supermarkets and food colours. I don't have the books any more but I think one of the articles mentioned white margarine and why "they" wound up having to colour it yellow, because people associate yellow with butter and it was the simplest way (from a marketing perspective) to get people to buy it. Whether or not we should eat margarine might be up for debate, of course..