Local food experts see both sides of Kraft yellow dye debate
Boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in the grocery store. | Sun-Times Media file photo.
Updated: April 15, 2013 6:28AM
GLENVIEW — Roxanne Junge is well aware of yellow food dye — the same additive thousands of petitioners are asking Kraft Inc. in Glenview to stop using in its Macaroni & Cheese.
Junge manages the Glenview Farmers Market, and she is vice president of the Illinois Department of Public Health Farmers Market Task Force.
In 2010, a farmers market vendor on the North Shore sold pickles with yellow dye that was not labeled on the container, she said.
“A child got sick, and when we found out, the vendor was shut down in all local markets within three days,” said Junge, also a board member of the Illinois Farmers Market Association.
“Yellow dye is an allergen that can make people sick.” Junge said.
Two North Carolina moms and food bloggers, Lisa Leake and Vani Hari, started the national petition on Change.org that registered 55,000 signatures on Thursday.
Specifically, the petition asked Kraft to replace yellow dye 5 and 6 with natural additives, such as beta carotene and paprika found in food products in the United Kingdom.
Also, yellow dyes have been banned in Norway and Austria, the petition pointed out.
In an email, Kraft spokeswoman Lynne Galia said consumer concerns are taken seriously, while safety and quality are high priorities.
“We carefully follow the laws and regulations in the countries where our products are sold,” Galia said, adding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the colors in Kraft foods.
She also said Kraft sells 14 other Mac & Cheese items using natural coloring or without synthetic colors.
Judy Caplan, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Chicago, also emphasized that consumers have choices when buying food.
“The beauty of food markets today is that people have so many choices — additives or no additives,” she said.
“These dyes are considered to be safe by the FDA and they have gone through government testing. American consumers are protected. But it’s also good to reduce exposure to different chemicals in food,” she said.
Still, food activists such as Terra Brockman, founder and executive director of Land Connection in Bloomington, Ill., believes big food corporations need to “catch up” to today’s consumers.
“More consumers demand pure, healthy foods especially with natural alternatives,” she said.
Brockman often traveled to foreign countries where natural foods were used as dyes.
“Like beet juice for red coloring,” she said.
“The general public thinks it isn’t so cool anymore to make food in a laboratory or turning cookies bright green. People are more aware and want transparency,” she said.
Junge said farmers markets in local food systems can launch food recalls faster than large companies.
“Local food networks are quicker to respond because we know each other and we have relationships. It’s a safety feature that works well for local food systems.”