In March, Vani Hari, also known as Food Babe, embarked on a mission: Hari wanted to convince Kraft Foods to stop using harmful artificial food dye in their iconic yellow Kraft Macaroni & Cheese products. Today, that dream became a reality when Kraft announced that it would stop using these dyes in three macaroni and cheese products, reports the Associated Press. The change applies to three of the products in the Macaroni & Cheese line: SpongeBob Squarepants, Halloween and winter shapes, but not the classic elbow shape.
Kraft told the AP that it plans to replace food dye with spices, like paprika, and that the new recipe is not in response to Hari's massive Change.org petition and that it simply wants to improve the nutritional profile of its products. Still, Hari brought the issue to national attention when she went on media outlets like "Dr. Oz," "Good Morning America" and CNN among others to discuss the harmful effects of artificial food dyes. She received more than 348,000 signatures on her petition and was flooded with letters from concerned parents. Metro interviewed Hari about her victory.
Metro: Congratulations! How did you feel when you found out about your victory?
Hari: I was really happy because I knew this change wasn’t going to happen overnight. This is a huge corporation, and this is one of their biggest products. This is their way of listening and I’m so incredibly honored to be a part of this change for the food system and represent 348,000 people.
What is your next move? What else do you want Kraft to do?
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I’d like them to remove artificial food dyes from all their products and honestly other U.S. corporations as well and across the whole industry. I plan on holding them accountable and other companies accountable by advancing awareness on my blog as much as I can about the issue. I’ll never forget why I started the petition. I was outraged when I found out they still use these dyes in North America and they don’t in Europe because of safety concerns. I want to hold these companies accountable for this double standard.
[Metro's note: Food dyes like Yellow 5 and 6, part of Kraft's Macaroni & Cheese formula, require warning labels or are sometimes even banned in other countries, especially in Europe. Kraft sells a different version of the product in Europe without food dyes.]
Can you remind us of the harmful effects of artificial food dyes?
They come from petroleum and so the way they’re produced means they can be contaminated with carcinogens. That’s the main concern for all people, whether you’re a child or not, that you have with this substance and food supply. The second thing is their link to asthma allergies and skin rashes and the most alarming thing that’s been proven over and over and why they created a warning label in Europe is their linkage to hyperactivity in children and behavior in children. In Europe, whenever an artificial dye is used, it says, “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
You've said before that you've received hundreds of letters from parents about the petition. What have they written to you?
The letters I've gotten have been absolutely heartbreaking. They describe how once they figured out how artificial food dyes affected their families, the removal of them helped with behavior problems in school and the ability to focus in school. One lady in particular said her daughter’s eczema completely went away. She was diagnosed at three months and at 14 was able to stop her eczema after over 11 years of suffering.
Parents also write to me about how artificial food dyes exacerbated all of the associations and adverse affects of autism and autistic children. I hear from parents saying they removed artificial food dyes and these crazy tantrums from their children would be eliminated. What was so upsetting to me is that there are so many more families suffering from eczema and hyperactivity in children and they don’t even know they can eliminate this one ingredient and it can have such a profound impact on their health. The campaign and awareness the petition created was invaluable. You can’t even put a price on how many people became aware and started to remove food dye and feel better, and now that Kraft is listening to me and 348,000 people it's a really great first step but they have a lot more work to do.
Is it OK to eat Kraft Mac & Cheese now?
I'd love for the removal of genetically engineered ingredients and any dairy that is included that may have growth hormones in it. It’s a processed cheese product and the ingredients could have contamination from milk that have growth hormones and antibioitics. After that, it would be an OK product with no genetically engineered ingredients or dairy products. I have a wonderful new recipe on my website that shows how to make macaroni and cheese without harmful additives.
Why did you petition Kraft in particular?
Kraft is one of the largest food companies here in America and it was a product so many children and families eat every single day. It’s something I grew up with and it’s something I think everybody could relate to when raising awareness about these petroleum-based artificial food dyes.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter:@andreapark