Here comes Peter Cottontail …
And Jane Hersey wants to make sure his basket isn't full of red 3, red 40, green 3, blue 1 and 2, yellow 5 and 6 and other synthetic dyes that come from petroleum, often made in China.
Hersey, national director of the Feingold Association of the United States, doesn't knock the consumption of Easter candy altogether. She says parents just need to ensure their kids eat "natural" candy instead of those with the synthetic dyes and flavorings.
The synthetic dyes have been associated with hyperactivity, irritability, fear and depression.
Hippity, hoppity, Easter's on its way …
"It drives me crazy that people are using this stuff," Hersey said.
"This technology has gotten more and more sophisticated," she said. "You can have a product that looks like a food and tastes like food but doesn't have any food in it."
Bringing every girl and boy, baskets full of …
Red dye No. 40?
Candymakers and food manufacturers use red dye 40 to color candy and even as part of the substitute for real strawberries. You can find the colorings in M&Ms, some jelly beans and even McDonald's strawberry sundaes.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the dyes because their bodies are still developing, researchers say.
"There's strong evidence that food dyes cause hyperactivity," said Dr. Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's stupid to use dyes, especially in food consumed by kids."
The whole dye issue could be eliminated if candy weren't the focus of children's diets to begin with, Jacobson said.
"The primary concern is that kids are eating that kind of food instead of fruit," he said.
The United Kingdom eliminated the use of dyes in its candies and other foodstuff. M&Ms in England are all natural as are the strawberry sundaes at McDonald's in England.
U.S. companies continue to offer the dyes because, well, people keep buying them. The dyes run cheaper than real fruit, so more money can be made.
Do I hear the word greedy?
There are some companies that do keep the consumer in mind and are moving away from the dyes.
Last fall, for example, the folks at Necco, makers of the colorful, sweet wafers and other candies, stopped using dyes in their candies and now use all-natural products.
"We were able to update our ingredient list to remove the 'fake stuff' while staying true to the original Necco wafers that people have loved for generations," Jackie Hague, vice president of marketing for the New England Confectionery Co., said in a statement about the change.
But if you're not consuming the new natural Necco products, then here's the edge about dealing with the "fake stuff":
• Check the label for colorings. If the label says color followed by a number, those are the synthetic dyes you want to avoid.
• Use natural colorings for color in your own food.
• Beware other synthetic material, such as flavorings. Instead of real vanilla, some chocolates contain the artificial "vanillin" as a flavoring agent.
• Eat fruit. Okay, this should go without saying, but, hey, we need to eat more fruit rather than the depressing, irritating, fear-mongering dyes that are making everyone crazy.
Ivan Penn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and become a fan of Consumer's Edge on Facebook.