updated 6/3/2008 12:52:47 PM ET 2008-06-03T16:52:47

A consumer advocacy group called on the Food and Drug Administration Tuesday to ban the use of eight artificial colorings in food because they have been linked to hyperactivity and behavior problems in children.

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Controlled studies conducted over three decades have shown that children’s behavior can be worsened by some artificial dyes, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The group noted the British government is successfully pressuring food manufacturers to switch to safer colorings.

Over the years, the FDA has consistently disputed the center’s assertion. The agency’s Web site contains a 2004 brochure that asks the question: “Do additives cause childhood hyperactivity?”

“No. Although this hypothesis was popularized in the 1970’s, well-controlled studies conducted since then have produced no evidence that food additives cause hyperactivity or learning disabilities in children,” the agency said.

Dyes are used in countless foods and are sometimes used to simulate the color of fruits or vegetables. The additives are particularly prevalent in the cereals, candies, sodas, and snack foods pitched to kids.

“The purpose of these chemicals is often to mask the absence of real food, to increase the appeal of a low-nutrition product to children, or both,” said the center’s executive director, Michael F. Jacobson. “Who can tell the parents of kids with behavioral problems that this is truly worth the risk?”

The center’s petition asks the FDA to require a warning label on foods with artificial dyes while it mulls the group’s request to ban the dyes outright.

The colorings the center seeks to ban are: Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, and Yellow 6.

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