The Food and Drug Administrationconvened the expert panel after agency scientists for the first time decided that while typical children may be unaffected by the dyes, those with behavior problems may see their symptoms worsen by eating food with synthetic color additives.
The debate over artificial dyes began in the 1970s when Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a pediatric allergist from California, had success treating the symptoms of hyperactivity in some children by prescribing a diet that, among other things, eliminated foods with artificial coloring.
But once the agency conceded that some children might be negatively affected by the foods, it had to decide what to do. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, petitioned the agency to ban the dyes or, at the very least, mandate warnings that foods containing the dyes cause hyperactivity in children. Major food manufacturers staunchly defended the safety of artificial dyes and said no bans or warnings were needed.
Artificial coloring is present in popular products like Froot Loops cereal, Jell-O, Life Savers candy and Hostess Twinkies.
The F.D.A. did not ask the committee about a ban, and the committee voted 8 to 6 that even a warning was not needed.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association hailed the votes. “We agree with today’s F.D.A.’s advisory committee finding which determined that there is insufficient evidence of a causal link between artificial colors and hyperactivity in children,” it said.
Dr. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the advocacy group, said he was disappointed but pleased that the debate about the safety of artificial colorings had been renewed. “At least the F.D.A. is now acknowledging that dyes affect some children,” he said. “That’s a big change.”