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NEWS: Food dye warning labels and CETA

The Toronto Sun reported in mid-July that, “Many artificial food dyes that colour everything from breakfast cereal to ice cream should be banned because they pose cancer risks, a new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says.”

The article notes that, “Manufacturers worldwide each year use about seven million kilograms of artificial colours in common prepared foods like cookies, candy, pop and ice cream. The three most widely used food dyes —Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 — are known to be contaminated with carcinogens, the Washington-based health watchdog organization said. Evidence suggests, but does not prove, that other dyes — Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3 and Red 40 — cause cancer in animals, the CSPI report said.”

The article highlights that, “As of Tuesday (July 20), European food manufacturers will be required to add a warning on product packaging if the product contains one of six artificial colours linked to cancer and other health issues. …European food manufacturers will be required to add a warning on packaging that a product ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’ if it contains one of six artificial colours. The colours are… sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), ponceau 4R (E124), and tartrazine (E102).”

In June 2008, CSPI identified these synthetic dyes as dangers, “yellow 5, or tartrazine; red 40, also known as allura red; blue 1, or brilliant blue; blue 2, or indigotine; green 3, or fast green; red 3, or erythrosine; yellow 6, or sunset yellow; and orange B.”

The Globe and Mail reported then, just two years ago, that, “All of the dyes, with the exception of orange B, are permitted for use in Canada.” A CBC article reported earlier this year that, “Allura red (which is permitted for use in Canada) is banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway.”

The Globe and Mail article continues, “Many of the dyes are derived from coal tar and have been linked to health problems in past scientific studies. …The food dyes are added to a wide range of products, including concentrated fruit juice, ketchup, cheddar cheese and liqueurs. But Canadian consumers are at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing whether food contains potentially harmful dyes. That’s because companies are not required to list which dyes they use in their products – they can simply say the product contains ‘colours’. …The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said that while food companies are free to disclose which colours they use, they are not obligated to release those details to consumers.”

Health Canada is now reviewing regulations on the use of food colours. Under proposed changes, manufacturers may now be required to identify individual colours on ingredient labels for many, if not all, colours. It would appear that Health Canada is suggesting only that the “clear labelling of food colours is the best option for risk management of behavioural effects attributable to food colouring agents.” In contrast, the European Union requires a warning label that states that the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

We will follow this issue and see how it may relate to ongoing negotiations (particularly in the areas of food safety standards or regulatory harmonization) for the Canada-European Union Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement.