Mars to ditch all artificial colours from its entire global food portfolio

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

'Artificial colours pose no known risks to human health or safety, but consumers today are calling on food manufacturers to use more natural ingredients in their products,' said a statement by Mars. © iStock / urbanbuzz
'Artificial colours pose no known risks to human health or safety, but consumers today are calling on food manufacturers to use more natural ingredients in their products,' said a statement by Mars. © iStock / urbanbuzz

Related tags Food colorings E number

Food giant Mars has pledged to phase out all artificial colours from its global food and drink portfolio in the next five years.

The decision will affect products across the company’s range of chocolate, chewing gum, confectionery and food and drink businesses, totalling more than 50 brands.

Mars called the task of incremental reformulation “a complex challenge” ​but said it would partner with suppliers to identify suitable ingredients to retain the vibrant colours and would gather consumer feedback during the process. 

Corporate affairs director of Mars France, Hedi Hichri, told FoodNavigator: "There will be an arduous process of obtaining regulatory approval for all new ingredients in development. We need to identify winning formulas that meet our rigid safety and quality standards, all legal and regulatory requirement, as well as all applicable laws and regulations."

The company defended its use of both artificial and natural additives in its products, saying all ingredients used in its products have been deemed safe by food safety authorities, such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But it has been under increasing pressure to remove artificial colours due to growing demands for more natural ingredients in their products, it said.

Starburst manufactured by Mars subsidiary, the Wrigley Company. Source: CSPI

President and CEO, Grant F. Reid, said the task of eliminating all artificial colours from its entire human food portfolio would take time and hard work to accomplish. “[But]​ our consumers are the boss and we hear them. If it’s the right thing to do for them, it’s the right thing to do for Mars.”

The announcement was welcomed by Michael F. Jacobson​president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a not-for-profit organisation which has been campaigning for Mars to remove artificial colours linked to child hyperactivity in its M&M’s brand in the US.

“[This] is a huge advance for parents and children and should serve as a powerful incentive for the rest of the food industry to follow suit.​ We appreciate the fact that Mars listened to our concerns and to the concerns of its customers and that it is exercising this kind of responsible leadership,” ​he said.

M&M's: Clean label catch-up

Many food and drink manufacturers - including Mars - have already voluntarily phased out most artificial colours from their products in Europe but they remain widely in use in the USA. M&M’s in the US contain artificial colours Yellow 5 (tartrazine), Yellow 6 (sunset yellow), and Red 40 (allura red) but not in Europe. 

Such “slightly different formulations and products” ​are due to differing consumer preferences, ingredient availability and local regulations, said Mars. But an online petition​ on, launched by a concerned consumer and supported by the CSPI which called on Mars to remove the "neurotoxic chemicals"​ from M&M's, has received 216,595 signatures to date.

The company was also lagging behind its confectionery rivals Nestlé USA​ and Hershey​ which had already committed to no artificial dyes from their US portfolios.

The infamous Southampton Six

Known as the Southampton Six, Some artificial colours were linked to hyperactivity in children in a 2007 study conducted by the University of Southampton and funded by the UK’s Food Standards Agency.

The Southampton Six

  • sunset yellow FCF (E110)
  • quinoline yellow (E104)
  • carmoisine (E122)
  • allura red (E129)
  • tartrazine (E102)
  • ponceau 4R (E124)

EFSA conducted a subsequent safety assessment which concluded the Southampton study “provided limited evidence that the mixtures of additives tested had a small effect on the activity and attention of some children".​ 

Since 2013 it has been re-evaluating the safety in light of new scientific data. Last year it declared allura red to be safe​ meaning acceptable daily intakes remain unchanged while in July 2014 it said sunset yellow was also safe​ and increased the ADI.

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