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Consumer group warns of carcinogenic dye in some Easter candies

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Suzanne Potter

(California News Service) Pink and purple Peeps are popular Easter treats, but consumer health experts warn they contain a dye that has been linked to cancer and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The Food and Drug Administration banned Red Dye No. 3 in cosmetics in 1990, saying it causes cancer in rats, but 33 years later it remains legal as a food additive.

Michael Hansen, senior scientist for Consumer Reports, said advocates have petitioned the FDA to ban it in food. Public comments on are open now through May 18.

"Unfortunately, the FDA only takes action if there is a lot of public outcry," Hansen contended. "That's in part because there is pressure from the other side, because most companies don't like regulations. They think they're red tape."

Consumer Reports is collecting signatures on a petition to ask the company to stop using Red Dye No. 3. In a statement, the company that makes Peeps, called Just Born, said it only uses FDA-approved colorants, it lists ingredients on packaging, and is exploring options for colors from natural sources.

Hansen advised families to read the labels and avoid products with Red Dye No. 3. 

"There is a fruit punch flavor. There's a cotton candy flavor. There's a cake decoration flavor," Hansen outlined. "Those ones will contain red three."

The California Legislature is currently considering Assembly Bill 418, which would ban five controversial food additives, including red dye number three. Lawmakers are expected to hold a hearing on the bill later this month.