How ironic that the same week we post a package of stories about the potential health hazards of synthetic food dyes and the growing consumer distrust of these additives, Kraft Foods rolls out its first new food or beverage category since the 1990s: a liquid water enhancer filled with artificial colors, artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
Called MiO (“mine” in Italian), the product comes in Mango Peach, Berry Pomegranate, Strawberry Watermelon and other flavors—all of which Kraft is quick to point out are not artificial (the flavor is real but definitely not the color). The company is pitching MiO as the next-best thing in food customization and is attempting to spread the word about the new product (which seems like a hipster version of Kool-aid to me) by giving out tens of thousands of free samples via Facebook and bloggers.
MiO will hit U.S. store shelves on March 7. I doubt, however, that Kraft will be peddling the product in the United Kingdom. Thanks to tough government labeling laws and consumer pressure, Kraft was among the food companies that eliminated synthetic dyes from its products for the U.K. market in 2007 (the company still sells the old, artificially colored versions in America). At the time, a Kraft spokesperson, Michael Mitchell, said the U.K. move was “about listening to consumers.”
Makes sense. If they combine their voices and are loud enough, consumers can affect product formulation and even move markets. This is powerful!
So here is my call to all you American mothers, fathers, doctors, researchers, kids and others who want artificial colors and other potentially harmful synthetic ingredients out of your food and drinks: SPEAK UP—using your voice, social networking power and spending dollars.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Tell Kraft (and other food companies) you don’t want dyes in your liquid water enhancers or mac ‘n cheese by calling and e-mailing the company and by not purchasing these products. Encourage your friends and social networks to do the same.
- Support those companies that only use natural colors in their food and beverage products by buying their products and motivating your friends and family to support them as well.
- Bone up on the research on the health effects of artificial colors and spread the word to your friends and colleagues in person and via social media.
- If you can, attend the gathering in Washington, DC, on March 30 and 31, when parents, physicians and others will urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban food containing synthetic dyes or at least require warning labels on these products. If you cannot attend, write to the FDA and add your voice to the cause.
- If you’ve experienced a reaction to consuming artificial colors—or have seen a reaction in your child—report the problem to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which is tracking adverse reactions. I've seen reactions in my oldest son, and I've reported them to CSPI.
- Educate your children about why they are better off eating real food and not processed food that contains artificial colors, flavors and additives. Kids are natural advocates for healthy eating. My 7 and 4-year-olds both now tell their friends why they should avoid artificial colors.
- Tell the schools that you do not want foods made with these ingredients served to your kids.
I truly believe that, if we work together, we can get artificial colors and other potentially harmful additives out of our food system. I hope you'll join me in this cause!
(Photo credit: Kraft MiO Facebook page)