Colours to Die For!

Updated on October 27, 2021

Colour me Blind …

Artificial colours are added to dog foods solely as a marketing decision: so that the food can mimic the appearance of “quality” ingredients so that they may appeal to consumer expectations. Most commonly, they are used to colour and texture ingredients so that they have the appearance of meat; the most common being textured vegetable protein (TVP).

The US Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has published an informative report on the risk of food dyes. In their 58-page report, “Food Dyes, a Rainbow of Risks” (1), CSPI states many currently approved dyes raise health concerns. Many pet feed and treats include dyes merely to please the eye of the consumer, the pet parent. Pet’s don’t care what colour the food, feed or treat is and can’t see the colours anyway. While research on risks of dyes in food is primarily done to show risks to humans, these studies are done on laboratory animals. This negative result prove dyes are a risk to the cats and dogs consuming them. How is it possible that some of these dyes are still used? Simply put, on food labels, artificial dyes are most often identified by their alternative names!

Remember, if it kills you, it will kill your pets! Think about it this way, outlawing the seven remaining artificial colours is like requiring that car manufacturers make only electric or extremely fuel-efficient automobiles – forcing companies to either drop the products from their line or create entirely new formulas in the interest of public health. For companies that rely on coal tar colours, the cost of finding replacement ingredients, changing recipes, and possibly losing sales due to a less visually-appealing product, may be a death sentence. Think it’s going to happen soon?

Of the common food dyes found in pet food, feed and treats, the CSPI summarise:

  • Blue 2 cannot be considered safe given the statistically significant incidence of tumours, particularly brain gliomas, in male rats. It should not be used in foods;
  • Red 40, the most widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of immune system tumours in mice. The dye causes hyper-sensitivity (allergy-like) reactions in a small number of consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children. Considering the safety questions and its non-essentiality, Red 40 should be excluded from foods unless and until new tests clearly demonstrate its safety;
  • Yellow 5 was not carcinogenic in rats but was not adequately tested in mice. It may be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals. In addition, Yellow 5 causes sometimes severe hypersensitivity reactions in a small number of people and might trigger hyperactivity and other behaviour effects in children. Posing some risks while serving no nutritional or safety purpose, Yellow 5 should not be allowed in Foods.
  • Yellow 6 caused adrenal tumours in animals, though that is disputed by industry and the US FDA. It may be contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and occasionally causes severe hypersensitivity reactions. Yellow 6 adds an unnecessary risk to the food supply.