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Petition Calls For Kraft To De-Yellow Mac And Cheese

By Anthony Todd in Food on Mar 11, 2013 3:00PM

Photo via Shutterstock.

Remember that bright orange powder that you used to mix in with your mac and cheese? (Mmm, mac and cheese.) Well, to nobody's surprise, cheese (even fake cheese) isn't really that color. The neon brightness is achieved through the use of food dyes, and a petition is circulating that calls for Kraft to remove them.

The Tribune first noticed this petition late last week when it only had 50,000 signatures. It's now up to 200,000 and still growing. The petition was started by two food bloggers, Vani Hari and Lisa Leake, and asks Kraft to remove the food dyes from their macaroni and cheese products.

In the video, the two claim that they "found out" the Kraft uses Yellow Dyes #5 and #6 — it's right on the box, so this wasn't really an revelation — and are concerned that the dyes cause health problems. Their petition is a mix of junk science, half-truths and, yes, some actual concerns.

Their reasons include things like the fact that food dyes are "man-made in a lab with chemicals derived from petroleum" and "add absolutely no nutritional value to the foods we are eating and are solely used for aesthetic purposes only." Ok, but that's not a reason to get rid of them, necessarily. Lots of things in the food system are made from petroleum derivatives (or chemicals derived from vegetables that are functionally equivalent) and every product with any flavoring or spice contains something that adds no nutritional value.

They also claim that the dyes are "contaminated with known carcinogens." Are they contaminated or are they themselves carcinogenic? If they are contaminated, we suspect that the FDA would like to know about it.

Here's the real deal. In England and Europe, health authorities have asked companies to voluntarily phase out Tartrazine (yellow dye #5) because of possible health concerns. In a review of nine different scientific studies, Tartrazine was never found to be carcinogenic; however, there may be a link to hyperactivity in children when the chemical is consumed alongside the preservative sodium benzoate. There are also some individuals who are sensitive to the chemical.

While we don't love fake food coloring any more than anyone else (and perhaps Kraft should remove it), hysterical complaints about petroleum and cancer aren't the way to do it. These types of claims obscure real concerns, backed up by real science, about food additives, over-consumption of sugar, trans fats and pesticides. Consumers can buy yellow food coloring in any grocery store and it's hardly poisonous, or everyone who drinks Mountain Dew would be dead already.

The simple comparison between the UK and US versions is an effective technique, and pointing out the difference is powerful, but there's no need to panic. There are plenty of non-dyed versions of mac and cheese out there for you to buy, if you're concerned. This is just one more reason to do even cursory research before signing every petition that sounds good.