Yesterday, Kraft Foods made headlines with an announcement that it will soon remove all artificial food dyes, flavors and preservatives from its iconic “blue box” macaroni and cheese. Starting in 2016, the product will be colored natural ingredients like paprika, annatto and turmeric.
You may recall that in 2013, food bloggers Vani Hari (Food Babe) and Lisa Leake (100 Days of Real Food) petitioned Kraft to remove synthetic yellow dyes from its “blue box” product, garnering over 365,000 signatures. Nonetheless, the company seemed unwilling to budge at that time.
Yesterday’s move may have been a belated response to that petition, but it also clearly reflects a general societal trend away from highly processed foods that has sent many Kraft consumers toward all-natural competitive brands, such as Annie’s mac-n-cheese. It also comes on the heels of a similar recent announcement by Nestlé that it will remove all artificial food dyes from its chocolate products by the end of 2015. (A Change.org petition asking M&M Mars to do the same has been circulating since 2013 and currently has over 180,000 signatures. You can sign it here.)
When I started The Lunch Tray in 2010, I was somewhat skeptical of claims by parents that artificial food dyes adversely affect their children’s behavior. But over the last five years, I’ve changed my views. Putting aside the numerous anecdotal reports out there, many from moms I know and trust, even the FDA’s own expert panel admitted in 2011 that some approved food dyes can aggravate pre-existing hyperactivity in kids. (The agency did not, however, follow the European Union’s example and place warning labels on foods containing such dyes.) In that regard, Kraft’s move is a clear victory for concerned parents.
More importantly, though, the company’s decision to voluntarily remove food dyes demonstrates what I’ve been saying for years now, which is that private market forces are going to reform our food supply far faster than government regulation ever could. Whether it’s McDonald’s voluntarily agreeing to serve only antibiotic-free chicken or Kraft voluntarily dropping dyes, we’re seeing the free market at work. Consumers share a growing concern over what’s in their food and Big Food stalwarts like Campbell’s and Kraft know they’ll have to either catch up or take a hit to their bottom line.
That’s a victory for all of us.
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