In 2008, the UK's Food Standards Agency (essentially their FDA) asked food makers to voluntarily recall six artificial colors in food by 2009. Most all of the companies complied. A few months later, the European Parliament voted to add warning labels with the phrase "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children" to products with the same six synthetic red and yellow dyes. This encouraged many large food makers like Nestle to reformulate their products rather than risk a decline in sales. These changes came after several research studies were published regarding the potential link between food dyes and hyperactivity in kiddos.
Many food scientists, physicians, and psychologists aren't so sure the research is conclusive and it is likely that more studies need to be done to prove this one way or the other. One interesting thing to consider is that the safety testing done on the current dyes was done 30-50 years ago. Might be time for an update.
There are lots of ways to color foods. For instance, Kellogg's strawberry Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars that are sold in Britain now contain beetroot red, annatto and paprika extract, while those sold in the U.S. are tinted with Red 40, Yellow 6 and Blue 1. Mmmmm.
I have been paying more attention to the ingredient lists of the foods I eat. We buy a lot of "natural" and "organic" foods and for the most part, steer clear of most processed foods. Kids are obviously the ones most targeted with Fruit Loops and Rainbow Gold Fish and Kool-Aid and we don't yet have any requests for these so we have mainly steered clear. The crazy thing is, there is dye in foods that we don't even think of, some yogurts, the "blueberries" in some bagels, some cheeses, juice, the list goes on and on.
I plan on giving E the same foods his dad and I eat but I am realistic that he will probably eat a red M&M or a little blue frosting somewhere down the line. I just hope that the US catches up with Europe and is at least somewhat conscientious of the problems and concerns.
It's good to be aware!
ADDENDUM added 4/14/11: check out this blog post for more info!