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Following California ban, FDA feels new pressure to take action on red No. 3

Last October, a coalition of consumer advocacy groups filed a petition requesting the FDA ban the use of synthetic food dye Red No. 3. Now, with the additive banned in California, the pressure is rising for the Food and Drug Administration to make good on its pledge to end the dye’s use in food production.

According to the Environmental Working Group, over 3,000 products use Red No. 3, including Brach’s Candy Corn, Fruit by the Foot, Dole fruit cups, Jell O and marshmallow Peeps.

Notably, Twizzlers, Skittles, M&Ms and Nerds are free of Red No. 3, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), one of the groups behind the 2022 petition.

“I think the passage of the bill in California creates undeniable pressure on the FDA,” Dr. Peter Lurie of the CSPI told NPR. “We think that this will just make it more likely that they grant our petition.”

The FDA previously stopped use of Red No. 3 in certain drugs and cosmetics in 1990, based on an unpublished study which linked the dye to thyroid cancer in rats. While evidence of the same has yet to be proven in humans, subsequent studies have pointed to a connection between consumption of food dyes and behavioral issues in children, such as hyperactivity. International agencies have also taken action on it, with the European Union banning the dye in 1994 in all products except maraschino cherries.

While the California law does not go into effect until 2027, industry advocates have begun to push back. The National Confectioners Association argued in a letter to the FDA that the West Coast state was “out of its depths” in passing the law, and that the legality of Red No. 3 should solely be the federal agency’s decision to make.


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