I confess, I did not see this one coming: the Center for Science in the Public Interest has asked the government to ban food coloring. They argue that the coloring worsens hyperactivity in some children. Marion Nestle recently provided a rundown of the science behind food coloring and hyperactivity, and I think you’ll agree with me that the evidence is less than overwhelming. She only discusses two studies in detail. The first had problems, and the second found that 1 out of 23 kids showed a reaction. She links to another, more recent study but doesn’t discuss it. You would think we would need clear and strong evidence of a serious affect before we talked about banning a product.

Nevertheless, whether or not food coloring causes hyperactivity in some children is absolutely besides the point. Surely a cup of black coffee would cause hyperactivity in children, and yet we haven’t banned it. The absolute most this implies is for a clear labeling of products that include food coloring. I say a “clear labeling”, because I was under the impression that product packages already had to list their ingredients, including food coloring. Am I mistaken?

Food paternalists may find this unimaginably barbaric, but some people like a little color on their cakes, and prefer their cheese curls orange. In fact, given the prevalence of orange cheese curls, colored cakes, and a million other uses for food coloring it would appear that lots of people really do like them. But the fact that people prefer them is exactly why food paternalists are targeting them, and the hyperactivity claim is really just an excuse. You can see this in the quote from Marion Nestle:

“These dyes have no purpose whatsoever other than to sell junk food,” Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

This issue isn’t really about hyperactivity, it’s about another cudgel with which to try and get people to eat healthier foods. This is an invasive, overreaching, and dishonest attempt at regulating food. I hope that the more extreme the proposals get the more people will hesitate to support the groups like CSPI when they call for bans on stuff they don’t like. Because today they may be coming for a product or ingredient you don’t value, but rest assured, tomorrow they’ll be after something you do.

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