UK Kicks Artificial Food Dye, U.S. Doesn’t.

Processed foods such as Skittles, Starbursts, Nutri-Grain Bars, and Lunchables might look the same in an American grocery store as they do in a British one, but they’re not the same. The American versions contain the artificial food dyes that we’ve unfortunately become used to seeing on ingredient lists, while the U.K. versions, made by the exact same companies, have replaced those risky food dyes with natural additives, such as beetroot powder, annatto, and paprika extract. Red No. 40, Yellow No. 6, and Blue No. 1 no longer have a place in many processed foods sold in the U.K., but they continue having a heyday over here in North America.

How is such a double standard maintained? It stems from a study that took place in 2007 called the Southampton Study, which was funded by the federal food safety agency in the U.K. Its results indicated a link between hyperactivity in children and certain food additives. In response, the U.K. branches of Kraft, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and Mars, as well as U.S. companies that export to the U.K., removed these harmful ingredients from their foods without making the changes back here in North America. Then the U.K.’s Wal-Mart equivalent, Asda, voluntarily removed monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, and hydrogenated fat from 9000 of its own label products, ingredients that weren’t even part of the study. This shows an eagerness on the companies’ parts to clean up their acts for U.K. consumers, yet they haven’t done the same for Americans.

Gigabiting/CC 3.0

A different kind of relationship exists between these food companies and their consumers in the U.K. than in the U.S. I disagree with one person’s suggestion that the companies care less about the lives of American kids than they do about British kids when doing their cost-benefit analyses. After all, if the companies truly cared about kids’ health, they wouldn’t be making the products they do. The double standard is more indicative of where a nation’s priorities lie and the fact that money always talks. The U.K., which subsidizes health care, is more invested in preserving the health of its citizens. That’s why its federal food safety agency would fund something like the Southampton study. In the U.S, where there is profit to be made off sick Americans and the government doesn’t foot hefty medical bills, there is less incentive to take care of citizens by ensuring the removal of artificial dyes.

It’s no wonder that American parents are up in arms about the “rainbow of risks,” as the Center for Science in the Public Interest calls these food dyes. It would be nice to know that processed snacks are free from additives, for those rare occasions when my kids eat them at someone else’s house. But I can’t help thinking that the debate about who’s to blame for the double standard is pointless because it sidesteps the bigger problem that kids shouldn’t be eating processed foods in the first place. It doesn’t matter what companies put in foods if parents choose not to buy them. No quantity of ‘natural additives’ is going to turn them into a healthy snack.

The food companies won’t change unless forced to. The U.S. government isn’t in a hurry to make it happen, so it’s up to American consumers to demand the changes they want to see. A widespread boycott of all foods containing dyes could probably do a lot to catch the companies’ attention and make them reconsider their production methods.

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By Katherine Martinko


Alina Kanaski
Alina Kanaski5 years ago

Good for the UK! If only the US would follow suit...

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore5 years ago

We Yanks are idiots!

iveta cer
Iveta Cer5 years ago


Carla van der Meer
Carla v5 years ago

The UK and the EU are miles ahead of North America when it comes to many food safety issues, but I wonder of they haven't the problems with evil lobbyists running their governments at the expense of public health.

GGma Sheila D.
Sheila D5 years ago

This says it all about the difference between the UK and the US when it comes to the people's food and health.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R5 years ago

CONSUMERS: Please take an interest in what you and yours are eating! PLEASE! Your lives and health depend upon it!

heather g.
heather g5 years ago

Consumers have huge strength in their votes and in their avoidance of buying foods that make them sick.
Exercise your rights - because your system isn't going to change without that !!

L. C.
Ms. L. C5 years ago

Why Is The U. S. So Stubborn About Getting Good And Affordable Healthcare, About Not Using Dyes In The Foods We Eat, Because It's Not Healthy For Us, And Why Does The U.S. Think Of Profit More Than Helping People That Are Sick Get Well. It's Always About The Money, Not The People!

Aileen P.
Aileen P5 years ago

Thank you for the info.

Aaron Bouchard
Aaron Bouchard5 years ago

thank you