Halloween candy may have ‘spooky’ red dye, science group warns

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Children who go trick-or-treating often wind up with candies that contain Red. No. 3 dye. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 31 (UPI) — Something spooky may be lurking in children’s Halloween bags again this year — found in various brands of candy corn, Double Bubble chewing gum, Laffy Taffy, Pez, certain peppermint-flavored sweets and much more — and waiting to be gobbled up: FD&C Red No. 3.

Science consumer advocacy groups recently urged the Food and Drug Administration for this particular red dye’s removal from foods as an additive that’s been long linked to cancer and banned from use in cosmetics for more than 30 years.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest sent a petition Oct. 24 to the FDA, co-signed by more than a dozen other organizations, including the Environmental Working Group, seeking to remove Red No. 3 from the permanent list of color additives approved for use in food and dietary supplements, and for use in ingested drugs.

That’s “because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already found that this color additive causes cancer in laboratory animals and subsequent studies and reviews have reinforced that conclusion,” the petition says.

“FDA themselves determined that Red 3 causes cancer when eaten by animals in 1990 and said they would take steps to ban it in food, supplements and ingested drugs, so it’s not that they have an entrenched position that it’s safe,” Thomas Galligan, principal scientist for food additives and supplements at the Washington, D.C.-based CSPI, told UPI in an email.

“It’s more like they forgot or didn’t deem it high enough priority to take action on over the past three decades,”

Like all synthetic food dyes, Red No. 3 is used to make food look more appealing. It adds no nutritional value to the food, Galligan said.

This is the center’s first time petitioning about Red No. 3 specifically, but the group unsuccessfully petitioned FDA to ban all synthetic color additives in 2008, said Galligan, formerly a toxicologist with the Environmental Working Group.

Galligan describes this issue as “symptomatic of a broader problem, where FDA is frustratingly slow to respond to known concerns with the chemicals put into our foods.”

The new petition cited a 2016 study that found FD&C Red No. 3 was present in 11.1% of candies, 3.3% of toaster pastries, 2.6% of fruit-flavored snacks, and 2.6% of packaged cakes marketed to children in a sample of 800-plus grocery store products.

FD&C refers to the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The science groups urged the FDA to take “immediate action … as there is widespread exposure to U.S. consumers, particularly children, and new information indicates that very young children have the highest exposures.”

The groups cited the FDA’s own estimate that 84% of U.S. consumers age 2 years and older consume FD&C Red No. 3, based on 10- to 14-day food consumption data, with mean exposures ranging from 0.7 milligrams to 3.2 mg. per person per day.

A more recent assessment by California health authorities in 2021, using methodology comparable to the FDA’s but more recent data, found the highest exposures to Red No. 3 were among children under 2 years old — an age range not considered in the FDA’s earlier analysis, the petition said.

Yet, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores database that tracks color additives, 2,883 products currently contain Red No. 3.

“Unfortunately, until FDA takes action and finally bans Red 3 in foods, dietary supplements, and ingested drugs, the burden will fall on consumers. Avoid exposure to Red 3, people will have to read ingredient labels and avoid products that list Red 3,” Galligan said.

“We don’t think that consumers should bear that burden, hence why we and our partners submitted this petition.”

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