Are Peeps Easter candies safe? It all depends on who you ask

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A controversial coloring is used in all sorts of consumer products

Published reports have raised concerns about an Easter staple – those chick- and bunny-shaped candies, Peeps. Are they safe?

The core element of the concerns is Red Dye 3, a known carcinogen that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there’s evidence has caused cancer in laboratory animals and the National Institute of Health (NIH) has linked it to a DNA-damaging ability in human breast cancer cells.

But while it's illegal to use Red 3 in common consumer items like lipsticks, it’s also everywhere in candies like Peeps, Nerds, candy corn, SweeTarts, cakes, and Halloween candy. In other words, it’s so prevalent that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and 23 other organizations and prominent scientists urged the FDA to formally remove Red 3 from the list of approved color additives in foods, dietary supplements, and oral medicines. 

“Halloween has never been the healthiest holiday, but few parents would believe that the FDA permits the use of a dye it acknowledges as a carcinogen to be used as a common ingredient in candy,” said CSPI consultant Lisa Y. Lefferts. “Fewer still would believe that the FDA prohibits this carcinogen in makeup but allows it in food.” 

Peeps manufacturer stands behind its product

Just Born – the company that produces Peeps – emphasizes that, just as the CSPI does, Red Dye 3 is used in all sorts of consumer products for one purpose and one purpose only: to provide a brilliant watermelon red color to foods. Just Born also uses another red dye (FD&C Red ##40) to bring a red-orange hue to its other products including Hot Tamales and Mike & Ike. 

"FD&C Red #3 is currently an approved colorant for use in candy by the FDA. 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,” Just Born said in a statement.

“We also provide consumers with information on our packaging and our websites to help them make informed choices about our products. Our 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."

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