The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has published a report criticizing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) lack of action on food dyes. Titled Seeing Red: Time for Action on Food Dyes, the report points to studies allegedly linking food-dye consumption to behavioral issues in children—particularly those diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)—concluding that FDA “has failed to protect or even inform consumers of the risks of dyes to children.”

“We estimate that over half a million children in the United States suffer adverse behavioral reactions after ingesting food dyes, with an estimated cost exceeding $5 billion per year, using information cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a recent meta-analysis sponsored by an arm of the food industry,” states CSPI. “A study of food labels in one supermarket found that more than 90 percent of child oriented candies, fruit-flavored snacks, and drink mixes and powders are artificially colored.”

Claiming that children’s exposure to food dyes is higher than initially reported, CSPI asks FDA to require warning labels on products containing food dyes while the agency works to “revoke approvals for all food dyes.” In particular, the consumer group opines that FDA erroneously directed the Food Advisory Committee (FAC) in a 2011 meeting to consider whether the available evidence established a causal relationship between food dyes and hyperactivity—“a difficult scientific question to answer, and one that is unnecessary, given the requirement that dyes meet the federal safety standard for color additives.”

“Had FDA asked the committee to vote on whether food dyes were safe under the law—i.e., if there were ‘convincing evidence that establishes, with reasonable certainty, that no harm will result’ from food dyes—it seems likely that the FAC would have voted no,” argues CSPI. “Importantly, the FDA also asked the FAC to assess whether dyes certified in the United States affect children in the general population, but did not ask whether dyes affect sensitive subpopulations of children, such as those with behavioral problems or dietary sensitivities, which has been the focus of almost all of the research.”