WASHINGTON — Some evidence links dyes found in everyday foods to hyperactivity in certain children, scientists and academics told a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee Wednesday.
The panel is expected to weigh in Thursday on whether studies, some of which are decades old, definitively link the dyes and the disorder. The committee may recommend that the agency further regulate food coloring, do more studies or require better labeling of the additives. They also could also recommend that the FDA do nothing at all.
The FDA has so far said there is no proven relationship between food dyes and hyperactivity in most children. But the agency has agreed with many of the studies that say for "certain susceptible children," hyperactivity and other behavioral problems may be exacerbated by food dyes and other substances in food. Studies presented Wednesday backed that assertion.
The question for the agency is whether the potential effect on a possibly small percentage of children — it is unclear just how many — should lead to an outright ban of the additives or stricter warning labels on foods.
Public health advocates and academics studying the issue agree that dyes do not appear to be the underlying cause of hyperactivity, but they say that the effects of dyes on some children is cause enough to ban the additives.
The FDA is holding the meeting in response to a 2008 petition filed by the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest to ban Yellow 5, Red 40 and six other dyes.
Michael Jacobson, the director of that group, said at the meeting Wednesday that the only reason that dyes exist in food is to trick consumers.
"Dyes are often used to make junk food more attractive to young children, or to simulate the presence of a healthful fruit or other natural ingredient," Jacobson said, adding that some manufacturers use less dyes in the same foods sold in Europe because of concerns there over hyperactivity. "Dyes would not be missed in the food supply except by the dye manufacturers."