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Even though the FDA has said it causes cancer, it's still in hundreds of candies

By: April Carson

Scientists are asking the FDA to ban Red 3 from foods, ingested drugs, and supplements—a move that would bring these products in line with cosmetics, where the use of Red 3 is already illegal.

The FDA has banned the use of Red 3 in cosmetics and drugs, however this carcinogenic color additive is still present in many popular candies and other foods. Some examples of these include candy corn, Nerds, Peeps, Pez, SweeTarts and hundreds of others. With Halloween coming up soon, be sure to check food labels before purchasing any seasonal items. 23 organizations, scientists, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are today petitioning the FDA to remove Red 3 from the list of approved color additives.

The FDA has said that Red 3 "is generally recognized as safe" for use in food, despite the fact that it is a known carcinogen. The additive is still used in many popular candies and other foods, including candy corn, Nerds, Peeps, Pez, SweeTarts and hundreds of others.

FDA had evidence in the early 1980s that Red 3 caused cancer in lab animals. The National Toxicology Program considered this to be clear evidence, and as a result, in 1990 FDA took action by eliminating uses of the chemical in cosmetics and drugs that are applied externally . They also said they would “take steps” to ban its use altogether in foods, ingested drugs, and supplements--but those steps were never carried out.

Today, the only restrictions on the use of Red 3 are voluntary. In 2012, Mars Inc. (maker of M&M’s, Skittles, and other candies) announced it would no longer use the additive in its products.

CSPI consultant Lisa Y. Lefferts said, "Halloween has never been the healthiest holiday, but few parents would believe that the FDA permits the use of a dye it acknowledges as a carcinogen to be used as a common ingredient in candy. Even fewer people would believe that the FDA prohibits this carcinogen in makeup but allows it in food."

Red 3 is still used in hundreds of other candies, as well as baked goods, cereals, and snacks. The FDA has taken no steps to ban the use of Red 3, despite its own findings that it causes cancer. CSPI is urging the FDA to finally take action and ban Red 3 from all food products.

Even though the government has said that Red 3 causes cancer, food companies continue to use it. If you type in "Red 3" on Food Scores- a database kept by the Environmental Working Group- 2,876 results of brand name foods containing Red 3 will show up. And these are just some of the hundreds made by well known food companies across the nation. There are over 100 different candies that utilize the dye Red 3, and this is only from Brach's candy company. If you're a fan of Pez or Peeps, then you've consumed Red 3 without knowing it. In addition to being in those well-known sweets, Reds 3 also can be found in some varieties of Betty Crocker's Fruit by the Foot, Dubble Bubble gum, Entenmann's Little Bites, and Hostess' Ding Dongs. Major grocery store chains such as Albertson's Target ,and Walmart all use Red 3 in their respective house-brand products as well.

And even some non-candy foods that one typically wouldn't assume would need artificial coloring contain Red 3; an example of this would be Betty Croocker's Loaded Mashed Potatoes. Did you know that sometimes companies use Red 3 to create the appearance of a desirable ingredient? For example, Vigo Saffron Yellow Rice does contain some actual saffron, which is quite expensive. However, it also gets its color from cheaper Red 3. In fact, PediaSure Grow & Gain Kids’ Ready-to-Drink strawberry shake contains no strawberries whatsoever—only food coloring in the form of Red 3.

Scary, huh? But it gets worse. Not only is Red 3 in food, but it's also found in personal care products like lipstick, shampoo, and even some children's toys. And because it's so ubiquitous, it's easy to be exposed to high levels of this potentially dangerous chemical without even knowing it.

A study of long-term animal feeding concluded that Red 3 causes adenomas and carcinomas of the thyroid gland. When an element is shown to cause cancerous growths in animals, there is a presumption that it will have similar effects on humans. In response to this concern, food laws passed in 1958 and 1960 included something called the Delaney Clause which prohibits approving any food or additive if tests show that it could cause cancer in people or animals. For this reason, today's petition from CSPI and others says that FDA is legally obligated to delist Red 3.

According to Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs at EWG, one of the groups petitioning FDA today,"The fact that the Food and Drug Administration has known since the 1980s about Red 3's potential cancer-causing abilities but still allows it to be used in food is outrageous. This is just another example of how consumers are failed by the FDA when it comes to food safety."

CSPI urges parents to not only avoid Red 3, but all other numbered dyes, such as Yellow 5 and Red 40. In addition to the cancer risk associated withRed 3, many have become increasingly concerned about the adverse impacts these dyes may have on children’s behavior. As a result, in 2008 CSPI petitioned the FDA for their removal from the food supply. Since then California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has confirmed that these dyes do cause neurobehavioral problems in some children.

Even with the dangers well-known, some prescription drugs still use Red 3 as an ingredient. For example, Vyvanse contains it--which is somewhat ironic since CSPI has argued that the behavioral problems caused by food dyes often look a lot like ADHD symptoms.

Tom Neltner of the Environmental Defense Funds stated that for more than 30 years, the FDA has had the capability to ban Red 3—an artificial food coloring used in various products, including candy given out on Halloween. We are not angry with the FDA; we are only asking them to do their job by states in this petition that it is time to ban red food coloring. According to the law, the agency has 180 days make a final decision, and let's hope that next year kids will be able tofu safer trick-or-treating because of it.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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