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Popular Easter candy Peeps contains additive linked to cancer, Consumer Reports says

<i>William Thomas Cain/Getty Images</i><br/>Peeps is called out for containing red dye No. 3
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William Thomas Cain/Getty Images
Peeps is called out for containing red dye No. 3

By Taylor Nicioli, CNN

Most convenient store shelves are well stocked with sugary marshmallow chicks and bunnies in time for Easter.

The original yellow-colored chick is still the best-selling product sold under the Peeps brand, but the popular springtime candy brand is being criticized for containing red dye No. 3 in its pink- and purple-colored candies.

Consumer Reports called out several Peeps candies as containing the dye that it said is “a known carcinogen,” according to a Monday news release from the nonprofit.

Consumer Reports sent a letter on March 17 to Just Born Quality Confections, which makes the candy, asking for a response by the end of the month. Consumer Reports said the company did not announce “any plans to change its manufacturing process.”

In a statement to CNN via email, Just Born said, “FD&C Red #3 is currently an approved colorant for use in candy by the (US Food and Drug Administration). We manufacture all our candies in compliance with FDA regulations, sourcing our ingredients and packaging exclusively from reputable suppliers who adhere to high quality and safety standards.”

The company noted that the ingredients are listed on packaging and websites.

Just Born added that its product development team is “continually exploring opportunities to provide expanded options for our consumers, including colors derived from natural sources that can deliver the same visual impact and stability as their certified counterparts.”

Consumer Reports has started a petition for the removal of the colorant in Peeps.

“The widespread use of Red Dye 3 is particularly concerning since it is found in many products marketed to children who are especially at risk of developing health problems from exposure,” said Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist for Consumer Reports, in a statement.

“Just Born Quality Confections should stop making its iconic marshmallow treats with this dangerous food chemical since other less risky alternatives are readily available,” Hansen added.

This move is not the first push to ban red dye No. 3. In October, Consumer Reports joined more than 20 other organizations to urge the FDA to remove the color additive from its approved list of ingredients.

Recently, a California State Assembly bill was introduced that would ban the sale of food products containing red dye No. 3 and other food additives thought to be harmful by January 2025.

The confectionery industry’s trade group, of which Just Born is a member, said US companies follow government standards.

“Chocolate and candy are safe to enjoy, as they have been for centuries. Food safety is the number one priority for U.S. confectionery companies, and we do not use any ingredients in our products that do not comply with the FDA’s strictest safety standards,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs and communications at the National Confectioners Association, via email.

“Chocolate and candy companies will continue to innovate as new information becomes available and consumer preferences change,” Gindlesperger added.

What is known about red dye No. 3

Nearly 3,000 food products contain the red colorant, according to the Food Scores database created by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental health organization.

Red dye No. 3 is approved for use in food and oral drug forms but has been banned in cosmetics since 1990 due to a carcinogenic response in rats.

A 2021 study by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment found that the consumption of red dye No. 3 can cause hyperactivity and other behavioral difficulties in children, concluding that some may be more sensitive than others. And a study published in 2012 suggested that the common food dye can cause cancer in animals, although there is no evidence that it is the same case for humans.

While the yellow Peeps do not contain the red dye, concerned consumers should check food labels of other candies when putting together this year’s Easter baskets. Any food products containing red dye No. 3 will have the additive listed as FD&C Red #3, as required by the FDA.

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