Health authorities of countries like Australia are reportedly considering a ban on the use of food dyes following reports that these coloring agents could be linked to cancer and hyperactivity.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has published a report urging the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban several food dyes that allegedly pose “risks of cancer, hyperactivity in children, and allergies.”

“Dyed foods should be considered adulterated under the law, because the dyes make a food appear better or of greater value that it is – typically by masking the absence of fruit, vegetable, or other more costly ingredient,” a press release from the CSPI says.

The report has specifically asked US FDA to prohibit (i) Red 3 and Citrus Red 2 “because they caused cancer in rats,” (ii) Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, “which are tainted with cancer-causing contaminants,” including Benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl; and (iii) Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, and Yellow 6 because there is “certainly not ‘convincing evidence’ of their safety.”

The United States uses approximately 15 million pounds of eight synthetic dyes in foods and surveys indicate that consumption of dyes among Americans has increased five-fold since 1999. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of these dyes are used in brightly colored cereals, drinks and candies - products aimed mainly at children, says the press statement.

Campaigns against these artificial colors are mounting pressure against governments across the world. Health authorities in UK have already initiated the process to phase out these food dyes. The new EU regulations require warning labels on most dyed foods.

“Dyes add no benefits whatsoever to foods, other than making them more ‘eye-catching’ to increase sales,” one scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences was quoted as saying.

Some dyes have caused cancer in animals, contain cancer-causing contaminants, or have been inadequately tested for cancer or other problems. Their continued use presents unnecessary risks to humans, especially young children.

Australian food authorities are reported to be considering banning food colourings from breakfast cereals and confectionary items.

The Food and Drug Administration should ban dyes, which would force industry to colour foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals, says Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI executive director, and co-author of the 58-page report, "Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks".