Are Artificial Colors Harmful?

Are Artificial Colors Harmful?
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The potential health effects of colorings such as cochineal, a food dye derived from crushed insects.

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Is it true that there’s a food dye made out of crushed bugs? Fact or fiction? Fact!

And here she is; the pregnant cochineal beetle. This is what she looks like when you smoosh them, and this is what it looks like when you lick them. And it doesn’t say “contains bugs” on the label; it says things like “color added.” So when parents feed their children yogurt, for example, they may be feeding them a “Strawberry Splash” of boiled insects.

Unappetizing? Perhaps, but harmful? Bug juice is, after all, a “natural” color—I mean, there’s nothing artificial about bugs. In fact, the reason they use them is because some of the artificial red dyes, like Red #3, were banned as carcinogens.

But who still thinks they’re still harmful? Who thinks gross, but harmless? Anyone think they could maybe use the extra protein?

Cochineal beetle extract is harmful. Sends hundreds of people to the emergency room every year. So potentially dangerous that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has called for all bug-based dyes to be exterminated. The FDA—the Food and Drug Administration—refuses to ban it, but they did announce this year that they will at least start requiring it to be listed in the ingredients, instead of just being “color added”.

Good news for those of us who’d rather listen to the beetles than eat any. Of course, the labeling law won’t go into effect until 2011. But until then, I have a suggestion for food companies: should you want to make your cherry popsicles red, how about adding some cherries?

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Is it true that there’s a food dye made out of crushed bugs? Fact or fiction? Fact!

And here she is; the pregnant cochineal beetle. This is what she looks like when you smoosh them, and this is what it looks like when you lick them. And it doesn’t say “contains bugs” on the label; it says things like “color added.” So when parents feed their children yogurt, for example, they may be feeding them a “Strawberry Splash” of boiled insects.

Unappetizing? Perhaps, but harmful? Bug juice is, after all, a “natural” color—I mean, there’s nothing artificial about bugs. In fact, the reason they use them is because some of the artificial red dyes, like Red #3, were banned as carcinogens.

But who still thinks they’re still harmful? Who thinks gross, but harmless? Anyone think they could maybe use the extra protein?

Cochineal beetle extract is harmful. Sends hundreds of people to the emergency room every year. So potentially dangerous that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has called for all bug-based dyes to be exterminated. The FDA—the Food and Drug Administration—refuses to ban it, but they did announce this year that they will at least start requiring it to be listed in the ingredients, instead of just being “color added”.

Good news for those of us who’d rather listen to the beetles than eat any. Of course, the labeling law won’t go into effect until 2011. But until then, I have a suggestion for food companies: should you want to make your cherry popsicles red, how about adding some cherries?

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to foodfacts.com

Doctor's Note

Check out these videos for more on the harmful effects of insect-derived ingredients:
Bug Appétit: Barriers to Entomophagy
Cheese Mites and Maggots

And check out my other videos on food additives

Also see my associated blog posts: Adding FDA-Approved Viruses to Meat and Soy milk: shake it up!

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

8 responses to “Are Artificial Colors Harmful?

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  1. This video is misleading. The only people who are harmed by the dye are people who are allergic to it. You can have other reasons to be against squished bugs being added to your food (hmm… thinking…) but I don’t think you should label a food “harmful” because it can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Using that reasoning, you’d also have to call nuts and seeds harmful (just to point out the obvious).




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    1.  Thank you for commenting, Barbara. When one is trying to decide if a food is harmful I try to look at risks versus benefits. Nuts and seeds have tremendous benefits, but if there’s little upside to eating bugs and some people suffer adverse reactions (whether a “true” allergy or not–we’re not really sure), then on balance I would stick with harmful, don’t you think?




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    2. You have it right, BarbaraH! To the far side, eating “bugs” and other insects will be a fine source of protein in humanity’s ugly future. If some are allergic, too bad.
      Why is this cropping up a YEAR later?




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    1. Most insecticides are sprayed on plants, not insects. Kids who eat a lot of unwashed, non-organic fruits and vegetables will ingest the most synthetic insecticides (and unwashed, organic fruits and vegetable can have lots of insecticides as well, just approved ones). But if you’re culturing beetles to harvest for food coloring, you’re going to make sure to feed them insecticide-free food, so I don’t think we have to worry there. Since apparently 80% of the world eats insects as a regular part of their diet, and insects are very different from the edible vertebrates associated with SAD, I don’t think there’s enough science yet to say whether edible insects should be lumped together with meat, eggs, and dairy.




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