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Do food dyes affect kids' behavior?

Some studies link artificial colors and hyperactivity. But experts are skeptical.

October 13, 2008|Melinda Fulmer | Special to The Times

Food manufacturers, for their part, say they use these colors to make foods more appealing to consumers. Yellow food coloring makes waffles look more evenly golden brown. Red or orange dye makes juice look sweeter.

However, food scientists say all of this can be achieved without using artificial colors.

Food makers "have the ability to do it, but they don't want to put any effort into it," says Pete Maletto, a New Jersey-based food industry consultant and food scientist, who has helped companies such as ConAgra reformulate their products with natural colors from plant sources such as beets or turmeric.

Some U.S. companies, he says, have experimented with replacing artificial colors in certain products, but ultimately changed their minds when they knew they would have to charge more.

"It is more expensive. You have to use more (natural pigment) so it costs a little more," Maletto says. "But if you say 'no artificial colors' on the box, you could charge a customer 10 cents more and they would pay it," he adds.

Maletto and other scientists say the majority of food makers won't act unless the FDA moves to ban the colors, or they are required to put a warning label on the package.

"It will be the same as what's happened with trans fats," Maletto said. "Only then will they do it."

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