While national policies have left a lot to be desired regarding food safety, states have taken a lot of steps forward to combat food issues. Consider the state and city bans on transfats, New York's mandate for calorie labeling on fast food menus. Even as the FDA and USDA fail, for many reasons, to step up to protect consumers, individual states are taking action and leading the charge.
Maryland is the next notable state taking action. Two bills have currently been proposed to ban the use of controversial food dyes in the wake of two British studies (PDF) that show some of the dyes may be linked to hyperactivity and behavior problems in children. One of the bills would mandate labeling on the food packages that contain the dyes, and give industry until 2012 to stop using them. The other bill specifically prohibits schools from purchasing, providing and serving any food item that contains the dyes by 2010.
The two dyes that are most concerning, based on the research, are Red 40 and Yellow 5. Currently, American manufacturers make one version of their product without the artificial dyes to sell in the EU, and another version of the product for sale in the U.S. Thus, a healthier version of these products already exists. So why do manufacturers continue to sell a product in the U.S. knowing it was banned elsewhere for such harmful effects on our kids? Good question.
The dyes are in many foods, most of which are targeted for children. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has a helpful guide, the Brain Food Selector, to all food products containing the dyes. Concerned individuals can search by dye type, brand, and food type for a comprehensive list.
Of course the usual candy and sugary cereals and drinks are on the list, but deceptively "healthy" sounding items can also be found, including "Light 'N Fit" yogurt, salad dressings, and even "Kid's Cuisine Kung Fu Panda Chicken Breast Nuggets." Scanning the list, it's appalling just how many of these foods are targeted to the population the dyes impact most — our kids.
Let's hope the legislation passes in Maryland, and other states follow suit.