Yippee. I'm sure that this recent announcement counts for somewhere between nothing and less than nothing in terms of committing to concrete actions to safeguard consumer's health. They are feeling some heat both because of a recent 2007 study published in the Lancet which provides strong evidence that a number of artificial food dyes, especially when consumed with food preservatives such as sodium benzoate, cause hyperactivity in children, as well as because the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) keeps filing citizen petitions and drumming up public support for banning various artificial food dyes. The 2007 Lancet study is just one in a long line of studies which have documented behavioral problems in children linked to artificial food dye consumption. It is however a little more difficult to ignore both because of the prestige of the journal and because CSPI keeps shining a spotlight on the problem.
That's not what I'm here to talk about today though.
Actually, synchronistically, (yes, yes it is a word, I didn't think so myself until I looked it up) I have finally got around to working a bit more seriously on a book on changes to the modern diet and am currently just about 80% through a chapter on artificial food dyes. Without giving too much away I thought I'd share a little of what I've been looking at, though I must warn you it is ugly.
There are currently seven artificial food dyes approved for widespread use in the United States. For the most part these chemical dyes are petroleum derivatives and when created were often new molecular entities, i.e nothing nature had ever seen before. In total there are about 15 million pounds of these artificial dyes consumed per year in the U.S. Despite the trend toward more healthy living and eating, consumption of artificial food dyes has increased some 5 fold since 1955, from about 12 mg/person/day to just over 60 mg/person/day.
There are seven artificial food dyes allowed on the market currently, however this was not always the case. Actually, if you can believe it, a total of 12 previous artificial food dyes were at one point in the past approved by the FDA to market, before that agency reversed its previous decisions, (twelve times in a row) and banned those artificial food dyes from the market place when evidence of harm became undeniable. Wow, what a track record. Really makes you feel confident about the safety of the currently marketed dyes.
Of the seven currently marketed dyes, the one least commonly used is a dye called Green No. 3 also known as Fast Green FCF. What really first caught my attention about this dye was a Wikipedia link to its Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Oh, I should probably explain more clearly. You see none of these artificial food dyes are actually food, they are chemicals, and as such the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that they have a data sheet which explains the potential environmental health risks which workers would face in working with the chemical.
All of the artificial food dyes, in going along with being chemicals and not foods, have Material Safety Data Sheets, in most cases they appear rather routine. It is another case entirely however for the MSDS for Green No 3. I actually double and triple checked this to be certain there wasn't some related chemical or misdirected link.
The MSDS for Green No 3 opens with Warning! Possible risks of irreversible effects. Under the Potential Health Effects section we find, May cause eye irritation. May cause skin irritation. May be harmful if absorbed through the skin. May cause respiratory tract irritation. May be harmful if inhaled Under Potential Health Effects: Ingestion: May cause irritation of the digestive tract. May be harmful if swallowed. If by some terrible accident this substance is ingested, the appropriate first aid response is listed as, Get medical aid immediately. Do NOT induce vomiting. If conscious and alert, rinse mouth and drink 2-4 cupfuls of milk or water. This is a product that is only to be used under a laboratory fume hood and with protective eyeglasses and gloves to minimize skin exposure. Most alarming is the toxicological section where the federal government required data sheet notes that, Tumorigenic effects have been reported in experimental animals. ... Mutagenic effects have occurred in experimental animals. Mutation in Microorganisms: Salmonella typhimurium = 10 mg/plate. Mutagenic effects have occurred in humans. Well that certainly is curious! So much for green eggs and ham. I'll just say it appears that the FDA and OSHA have some harmonizing to do.
Previous toxicity studies for Green #3 in rats found a statistically significant increase in both bladder and testicular cancers. Commenting on these findings the Center for Science in the Public Interest stated,
Histopathological examination revealed that the high-dose group of male rats had increased incidences of urinary bladder transitional cell/urothelial neoplasms, testes Leydigs cell tumors (usually rare and benign in humans), and liver neoplastic nodules. Statistical analysis found that the increased incidences were significant for the urinary bladder transitional cell/urothelial neoplasms (p=0.04, BioDynamics analysis)
and testes Leydigs cell tumors (p=0.04; FDA analysis), when compared to combined controls (Bio/dynamics 1982a). Mark Nicolich, a statistician working at the company that conducted the study, stated, Therefore, there is statistical evidence that the high dose of the test material increases the occurrence of certain types of tumors in rats (Bio/Dynamics 1981). Nevertheless, FDA scientists concluded that the tumors in
the testes were not compound-related because (a) they are common in aged rats, and (b) the numbers of tumors in the low-dose and high-dose groups were comparable.1
The International Programme on Chemical Safety also has a publicly available monogram on the toxicology of this food dye.2 In describing a rat study3 published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute from 1960 they note the following,
Growth inhibition was found. Thirteen out of 16 animals receiving 6% of the colour had fibrosarcomas. The animals given 3% showed also fibrosarcomas (10 out of 12). The controls did not show neoplastic tissue at the site of injection (Hesselbach & O'Gara, 1960).
Despite this overwhelming preponderance of cancer in the exposed animals we are told in the comments section that, The production of a high percentage of local sarcomata at the site of subcutaneous injection in rats is considered to be related to the physicochemical properties of the colour and the special conditions of the experiments, and does not constitute evidence of carcinogenicity by the oral route. Whew! I was worried for a moment there that when 80% of the rats got cancer it might not be a good thing to put in the food supply. I wonder what a positive carcinogenicity study would look like? Perhaps the best thing that could happen with Green #3 is for the FDA to harmonize with its European counterparts who have already rightly banned it from the food supply.
When we look at the second least used food dye currently on the market, Red No 3, things really start to go downhill. But, I don't want to give everything away, that story can wait for when the book is finished.
If it all weren't so sad it would be comical.
1http://www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/food-dyes-rainbow-of-risks.pdf, page 22, accessed 4/13/2011
2http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v16je12.htm accessed 4/13/2011