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Going Down the Rabit Hole

This sounds like the scare over thimerosal all over again. Parents, and others, insisted (and some still do) that the preservative used in some vaccines caused autism. And we all know how that debacle turned out (years of effort and money looking for a link all the while subjecting children to some pretty uncomfortable and often dangerous "treatments"). Now here again we have parents and their supporters asserting that the big bad scary chemicals are messing up their kids, researchers saying that umm no the evidence doesn't suggest any such thing, and government regulators ready to appease.

F.D.A. Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings
Renee Shutters, a mother of two from Jamestown, N.Y., said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that two years ago, her son Trenton, then 5, was having serious behavioral problems at school until she eliminated artificial food colorings from his diet. “I know for sure I found the root cause of this one because you can turn it on and off like a switch,” Ms. Shutters said.

But Dr. Lawrence Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif., said evidence that diet plays a significant role in most childhood behavioral disorders was minimal to nonexistent. “These are urban legends that won’t die,” Dr. Diller said.
This line in the article drew my eye, "There is no debate about the safety of natural food colorings." Unless you're, you know, allergic to those natural food colorings. People need to let go of that whole natural good, artificial bad prejudice. It make them do foolish things and easy marks for anyone looking to stir up fear about food or medicine. Natural can be just as bad, or worse than, artificial depending on what it is. Ask anyone who has a severe peanut allergy. Ask any one who has been bitten by a venomous snake. Natural does not always mean yummy yummy fun goodness.

The article continues with the following,
Citizen petitions are routinely dismissed by the F.D.A. without much comment. Not this time. Still, the agency is not asking the experts to consider a ban during their two-day meeting, and agency scientists in lengthy analyses expressed skepticism about the scientific merits of the Lancet study and others suggesting any definitive link between dyes and behavioral issues. Importantly, the research offers almost no clue about the relative risks of individual dyes, making specific regulatory actions against, say, Green No. 3 or Yellow No. 6 almost impossible.

The F.D.A. scientists suggested that problems associated with artificial coloring might be akin to a peanut allergy, or “a unique intolerance to these substances and not to any inherent neurotoxic properties” of the dyes themselves. As it does for peanuts and other foods that can cause reactions, the F.D.A. already requires manufacturers to disclose on food labels the presence of artificial colorings
Emphasis added.

So the FDA is supposed to make recommendations and publish warnings based on research that doesn't actually say what, if any, the problem actually is. This a whole lot of hand wringing over sketchy evidence that doesn't actually serve to illuminate any problems that might exist.

So alongside warnings that hot coffee is hot, that yogurt contains milk and that a can of peanuts contains peanuts we may soon see warnings such as,
WARNING: The following chemicals in this product [followed by the ingredient list] are suspected to cause certain reactions in certain individuals including but not limited to [and the sky's the limit].
I feel safer and more informed already, don't you?

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