Why is Red Dye #3 still being used in our food?

Thirty years after Red Dye #3 was banned from use in cosmetics, this toxic additive is still being used to, for example, make freeze pops a brighter red. That's nuts.

Toxic threats


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Food ingredients like Red Dye #3 have been linked to cancer in rats.

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will miss another deadline to get Red Dye #3 out of our food — even though we’ve known for decades the chemical is linked to cancer.

If we want our decision-makers to address this serious health threat, we need to tell them to act now.

What is Red Dye 3?

Red Dye #3, also called erythrosine, is a synthetic coloring made from petroleum that’s used to give food its color. 

In the U.S. it has been in use to make packaged snacks and drinks bright pink or cherry red since 1907.

What products have Red Dye 3?

You might spot “red 3” in the ingredient list of many packaged snacks in your pantry. The additive is used in brightly-colored drinks and foods of all sorts, from sodas and juices to yogurts and frozen treats.

In 2021 alone, the food and drug industries used more than 200,000 pounds of Red Dye #3. Nearly 3,000 brand-name food products contain the additive — from Halloween candy and various other fruit-flavored treats to PediaSure’s Grow & Gain Kids’ Ready-to-Drink strawberry shake.

Why is Red Dye 3 bad?

Red 3 in our food is a problem because there’s a known link between Red 3 and cancer in lab animal tests.

Other studies also point to the possibility of a link between synthetic food dyes and impacts on memory and learning.

Is Red Dye 3 banned?

Some uses of Red 3 are banned, but not others. 

The FDA already banned Red 3 for use in externally applied drugs and cosmetics, all the way back in 1990 — but using it in food is still fair game in most of the U.S.

So why the decades-long delay in getting this toxic chemical out of our food products? Lobbying by industry trade groups is a major factor — but we can still win protections for our families against Red Dye #3 by making sure the FDA hears the public’s voice.

The FDA must act on Red 3

Since 1960, our nation’s food laws have required the FDA to not approve, or remove from approval, any food additives that cause cancer in humans or animals.

It’s long past time for the FDA to do its job and get toxic Red 3 out of our food — and your voice will be crucial to making sure the FDA hears this call loud and clear.

Tell the FDA: Remove Red 3 from the list of approved color additives in foods, dietary supplements and oral medicines.

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