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More study needed on food dye, behavior

There is no clear indication that artificial food dyes cause hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children, an advisory panel told the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, but it said enough uncertainty exists that more studies should be done.

The panel rejected calls from some advocacy groups for a ban on artificial coloring and narrowly voted against recommending more information about dyes on food labels, though panel members acknowledged the dyes can be a source of problems for some children.

The panel, meeting in suburban Washington for two days of hearings, wrestled with murky data, much of it old, as well as with the difficulty of trying to gauge the accuracy of research that sought to measure sometimes subtle changes in children's behavior based on observations of parents and other adults.

"It's not like measuring blood pressure," said panelist Lisa Lefferts, an environmental health consultant and one of six members of the 14-member panel who supported adding more information to food labels.

Still, Lefferts said, even studies that fall short of conclusively showing a link don't clear the chemicals completely. "There's something going on. Parents know that. But it's hard to measure," she said.

The FDA usually follows the advice of the advisory panels. There is no deadline for any action it might take.

Consumer advocate Michael Jacobson said dye opponents will try to advance their cause in state legislatures and courts. He also said some food producers, mindful of stronger anti-dye sentiment in Europe, are beginning to reformulate products in the United States.

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