By ERICH WAGNER
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 10, 2009)—State senators will consider legislation Wednesday that would ban artificial coloring in food served in public schools, as well as require labeling on artificially colored foods across the state because of concerns that they contribute to hyperactive behavior in children.
If passed, the first of the bills would prohibit public schools and child care centers from providing food containing artificial coloring. The second bill would require warning labels on such food products being sold until 2012, when the additives would be banned all together.
Maryland would be the first state in the United States to pass such legislation. Sen. Norman Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County, said requests from constituents prompted his research into the possible connection between food dyes and hyperactivity, which led to his introduction of the bill.
Last year, Britain's Food Standards Agency issued a voluntary ban on artificial food colorings after a 2007 study from the University of Southampton found a link between the additives and increased hyperactivity in children.
Jeff Cronin, the director of communications for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy think tank, said anecdotal evidence has been building since the 1970s that removing artificial food coloring from children's diets improves behavior.
"The British studies have really shown that there's a basis in science for what parents have suspected all along," Cronin said.
The Food and Drug Administration's website states that although removing color additives from the diet of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can improve behavior somewhat, there is "no scientific evidence to support the claim that additives or colorings cause hyperactivity."
The National Institute of Mental Health says on its website that food additives and coloring have been linked to ADHD, citing the British study. The site says more research is being done to confirm the findings of the Southampton study and to explore the reasons behind them.
Scott Openshaw, director of communications for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade group that represents the food and beverage industry, called the bill "bad policy".
"The overwhelming majority of scientific evidence points to the safety of food dyes, and that includes evidence that has been reviewed and confirmed by agencies in both Europe and the U.S.," Openshaw said.
Stone said he expects resistance from members of the food industry before being able to pass the legislation. He wasn't sure how fellow legislators would respond.
"It's a difficult bill to pass, but sometimes it takes a few years or a few times to get things passed," Stone said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.