Consumer Reports: Why is Red Dye No. 3 still allowed in food?

It was banned in cosmetics decades ago

Some candies, drinks and even medicines are made with a food coloring called Red Dye No. 3, a controversial additive that Consumer Reports warns can potentially harm people’s health.

“I am concerned about the long-term effects, neurologically and developmentally, so I just try to avoid them if I can,” said Elena Ramsden, a mom who tries to give her kids food that are free from additives and artificial food dyes.

What is Red Dye No. 3?

“Red Dye No. 3, also known as erythrosine, is a synthetic dye derived from petroleum, and it’s used in food and drinks to give them a bright cherry-red color,” explained Consumer Reports’ Lauren Kirchner.

Decades ago, the Food and Drug Administration banned Red Dye No. 3 from all cosmetics after studies showed it caused cancer in lab animals. Still, the dye is in thousands of varieties of candies, gummies, cakes, beverages and medicine.

“So, how is it possible that this coloring is banned in makeup but not from the candy that many of our children could be eating?” questioned Kirchner.

That’s why last October, Consumer Reports, along with more than 20 other advocacy groups, signed a petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest to ask the FDA to prohibit the use of Red Dye No. 3 in food, dietary supplements, and ingested drugs.

According to the database of the Environmental Working Group. there are nearly 3,000 food products that contain Red Dye No. 3.

In addition to the potential cancer risk, some studies also have raised concerns that artificial food dyes, including Red Dye No. 3, contribute to neurobehavioral problems in children, such as hyperactivity.

The International Association of Color Manufacturers, an industry group, told Consumer Reports that there isn’t enough evidence associating the dye with behavioral problems, and maintains it’s safe at the levels most people consume.

If you want to limit artificial colorings, read the ingredients. The FDA requires manufacturers to list Red Dye No. 3 dye on the label.

Along with Red Dye No. 3, food safety experts are also concerned about other artificial dyes. Studies of kids’ exposure to Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6 have also shown neurobehavioral effects in children.

About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.