Kraft officials spent an hour yesterday with blogger Vani Hari (aka the Food Babe ) discussing a petition urging the company to stop using artificial colors Yellow #5 and #6 in its Mac & Cheese, but says it is satisfied that they are both safe and legal.
The petition at Change.org - which was launched last month by Hari and fellow blogger Lisa Leake and has since garnered more than 270,000 signatures - claims the colors are “contaminated with known carcinogens”, increase hyperactivity in kids and have been linked to asthma, skin rashes, and migraines.
It adds: “These unnecessary – yet potentially harmful - dyes are not in Kraft Mac & Cheese in other countries, including the UK, because they were removed due to consumer outcry… It’s time we demand the same here in the US.”
We met with the blogger yesterday and listened to what she had to say
However, Kraft Foods Group associate director Lynne Galia said that the safety of Yellow#5 and #6 - known in Europe as tartrazine (E102), and sunset yellow (E110) - had been affirmed through extensive review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
She added that she had spoken with Lisa Leake on the phone and met Vani Hari in person: “We met with the blogger yesterday and listened to what she had to say. We remain committed to offering choices. We already offer 14 varieties of Mac & Cheese with natural colors or no colors at all.
“At the same time, many people love the great taste of Original KRAFT Mac & Cheese just the way it is, so we’ll continue to offer that choice as well.
“With regard to your question [on whether this position might change in future], I said that while I can’t predict the future, as we consider new products, we’ll keep listening to our consumers.”
Open innovation challenge? ‘One of the challenges in replacing Yellow 5 & 6 with natural color is the ability to stain the pasta with the yellow cheese color’
Kraft, which uses natural colors including annatto and paprika in selected products instead of Yellow #5 and #6, has a technical request on its open innovation website explaining that it is looking for “clean label alternatives to Yellow 5 & 6 for use in dry cheese powder”.
This notes that “one of the challenges in replacing Yellow 5 & 6 with natural color is the ability to stain the pasta with the yellow cheese color. In addition, the use level required to match the color of current product also contributes to off flavor to the product".
The Southampton Six…
Controversy over the safety of artificial food colors has been raging for years, but reached a new frenzy in 2007 following the publication of a controversial study by the University of Southampton in the UK suggesting a link between six food dyes – the ‘Southampton Six’ – and hyperactivity in children.
They were E110 (sunset yellow/FD&C Yellow #6), E104 (quinoline yellow), E122 (carmoisine), E129 (allura red or FD&C Red #40), E102 (tartrazine/FD&C Yellow#5) and E124 (ponceau 4R).
While EFSA concluded that the results could not be used as a basis for altering the acceptable daily intakes of the colors in question, the European Parliament baffled many in the industry by insisting that products featuring the colors should nevertheless include warning labels noting that they “may have an effect on activity and attention in children”.
The link between food dyes and ADHD has not been established
However, an FDA advisory committee examining the link between food coloring and hyperactivity voted against recommending EU-style warning labels on products containing these dyes in the US at a hearing in Maryland in 2011.
The committee - a panel of experts in nutrition, toxicology, food science, immunology, and psychology – met at the request of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and was tasked with considering relevant data on the possible association between artificial food colors and hyperactivity in children, and advising the FDA as to what action, if any, was warranted to ensure consumer safety.
The International Food Information Council (IFIC), which attended the hearing, told FoodNavigator-USA.com afterwards: “The panel ruled that they agree with the FDA report that the link between food dyes and ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) has not been established.
“They also narrowly voted to recommend that no changes to the label are needed. They debated whether more research is needed and generally agree that there is.”
CSPI: The evidence that these petrochemicals worsen some children's behavior is convincing
The CSPI had urged the committee to recommend warning labels alerting shoppers to the alleged risks raised by eight approved FD&C food colors.
Speaking ahead of the hearings, CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said: “The evidence that these petrochemicals worsen some children's behavior is convincing, and I hope that the committee will advise the agency to both require warning notices and encourage companies voluntarily to switch to safer natural colorings.”
However, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) pointed out that certified color additives must be listed in ingredients lists in the US, enabling consumers to avoid them should they wish to do so.
The Foodbabe: We’ve received hundreds of letters from consumers…
In a March 25 entry on FoodBabe.com , Vani Hari - who describes herself as a “management consultant” and “food activist writer” - said she had received “hundreds of letters from consumers telling us how these artificial dyes have negatively impacted their children”.
She added: “One reader who attempted to call the Kraft headquarters was told that the organic version of Kraft Mac and Cheese was one option she could buy without the artificial dye – yet after the customer service rep did a quick search using her zip code he could not find that particular product within a 50-mile radius of her home.”
Click here to read Kraft's letter to fans of Mac & Cheese.