Continuing questions regarding the safety of nine widely used food and cosmetic dyes has prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to establish an expert review board to study whether the chemicals should be banned.
The action, by FDA Commissioner Frank E. Young, came despite a U.S. District Court judge's ruling earlier this year that the agency was within its jurisdiction in allowing manufacturers to continue using the additives, most of which are suspected carcinogens, according to a report in FDA Consumer magazine.
A consumer advocacy group petitioned the court hoping to force the agency to issue a final ruling on the additives' safety. Currently, the status of the nine dyes is in legal limbo because they remain on a "provisional list" that neither endorses them as safe nor raises specific doubts.
The provisional list was established in 1960. At the time, 200 color additives were included in the grouping to be reviewed by FDA. The majority have since been either certified as safe for human consumption/use or banned as health threats. Only the nine still in question remain on the list. In fact, the FDA has extended their review period 27 times.
The food dyes to be studied by the recently formed expert panel include FD&C Red No. 3, FD&C Yellow No. 5 and FD&C Yellow No. 6. The other six additives are used primarily in cosmetics. Of the three food dyes, Red No. 3 is the most widely used and responsible for the brilliant red color of maraschino cherries.
Public Citizen's Health Research Group is the Washington-based consumer advocacy organization that has been active in attempting to force the FDA to finally rule on the chemicals' status. The group has been motivated, in part, by the fact that food dyes have the worst safety record of any additives. As many as 70% of those artificial dyes which have been used at one time by the food industry have been removed because of health concerns.
Upon receipt of the expert panel's findings, the FDA will decide whether to place the dyes on the permanent listing or discontinue their use. In the meantime, the agency says the chemicals "present no hazard to public health," according to the report.
Reprieve, of Sorts--The income tax reform bill being considered by the U.S. Senate supersedes an earlier proposal that would have increased excise taxes on alcoholic beverages. In a previous version of the measure, Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.), had advocated steep increases in federal levies for spirits, beer and wine.
Of particular importance to California, the original Packwood plan called for raising the excise tax on a gallon of wine from the present 12 cents to as high as 87 cents.
Although the current congressional focus on tax reform means that California's wine producers and grape growers have been spared what some considered a potentially crippling tax increase, there has been little public rejoicing within the industry.
The Wine Institute in San Francisco recently sent its members a memo stating that the issue is certain to resurface as either part of the debate on income tax reform or as a means of reducing the federal deficit.
"We still have quite a distance to go before anyone can run up a victory flag," institute president John A. De Luca wrote in the memo.
Degrees of Roughage--The competition has become quite heated among food companies, particularly cereal manufacturers, over whose product has the greatest percentage of dietary fiber. These appeals to consumers' health consciousness are sometimes little more than advertising gimmickry, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The Washington-based consumer group recently reviewed those products that advertise as being high in fiber and reported that the actual fiber content varies widely.
For instance, the comparison found that both Ralston-Purina's Bran Chex and Kellogg's All-Bran claim to be "high fiber" cereals. Yet, the suggested serving of Chex yields only five grams of dietary fiber while a similar serving of All-Bran offers nine grams.
Of all the packaged foods reviewed, the study by the center found a Kellogg's product, All-Bran with Extra Fiber, contained the highest amount of dietary fiber--13 grams per serving.
The commercial focus on fiber is the result of medical research that indicates that diets high in roughage are linked with lower incidences of some types of cancer.
The National Cancer Institute recommends that the ideal diet is one that contains between 25 grams and 30 grams of fiber each day. Even so, consumption surveys show that the modern American diet typically contains only 15 grams.
Recycling Bean Waste--Scientists at Purdue University have suggested a novel idea for increasing the inadequate amount of fiber in the average diet. The proposal calls for incorporating what is normally the waste material from soybeans into breads and cereals, according to an article in the Journal of Food Science.
Soybean hulls, mostly fed to animals as a fiber supplement, would actually make an excellent supplement for humans if the material could be finely ground and added to flour. The research team of Catherine Johnson, Martin Berry and Connie Weaver analyzed the hulls and found that they contained 87% fiber, 7% protein and only 1% starch.
In consumer taste tests, a bread that contained 10% of the bean hulls compared favorably with commercial white bread. There was a slight problem with this much soybean, however, because some grittiness was detected and the loaf size was a little smaller than normal, according to the report.
As a result, the team recommended that manufacturers explore using only 5% soybean hull in breads. Even at this lower level, iron content is tripled and fiber content is dramatically increased.