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Drinking the Kool-Aid: Why Kraft Thinks the Artificial Food Dye Controversy is Over

When the FDA held hearings late last month to tackle the controversy of artificial food dyes, many food activists speculated the agency might pose restrictions on certain dyes or require warning labels, much as the European Union has done. Now thanks to ads for Kool-Aid that Kraft Foods (KFT) is running in magazines like Every Day with Rachel Ray and Reader's Digest, we know that will never happen.

Kraft, the nation's largest food manufacturer, has apparently concluded that the threat of any further government action regarding food dyes is pretty much nonexistent. In its seemingly outdated ads, which read "Bring back the fun," the company celebrates the wonderful tongue staining abilities of Red #40, Blue #1 and Yellow #5. Eight excited kids stick out their brightly colored, post-Kool-Aid tongues.

Sticking out tongues at food activists
It would be hard for Kraft to design an ad that more effectively flaunts its use of lucrative chemicals that some want banned. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that those kids are sticking their tongues out at food activists like the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

That's because, after championing the issue of food dyes for years, CSPI finally got some encouragement when the FDA held hearings to look at the research linking these chemicals with hyperactivity in kids. (There is also some evidence to suggest that some food dyes have links to cancer, but that wasn't considered in the hearings.) Then, after letting CSPI's Mike Jacobson and folks from the Feingold Association vent, the FDA's advisory committee proceeded to ignore them, deciding that there was not enough evidence linking glow-in-the-dark food with hyperactivity and that more research was needed.

Moms aren't paying attention
Having realized the FDA will now sit on its hands for at least the next few years, Kraft seems to have calculated that consumer worries about food colorings have not yet reached a critical mass. Research still shows that moms are much more worried about high fructose corn syrup than food dyes.

Kraft is testing the waters with new products like colorless Kool-Aid Invisible and Mac & Cheese with white cheddar, that is, Mac & Cheese without Yellow #5 and Yellow #6 and the resulting neon appearance. But Kraft is making no efforts to remove artificial colorings from existing products and replace them with natural ones.

The only company doing that (or at least that's talking about it publicly) is Pepsi's (PEP) Frito-Lay unit, which is working to remove food colorings (and other artificial ingredients) from their products. Everyone else, it seems, is still drinking the Kool-Aid.

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