Why we chose to take the Positive Approach (and a brief History Lesson)

Since launching the Natural Color Coalition and dropping the Press releases on PR Newswire we have received many inquiries to our new approach with our campaign and petition. ‘Why a positive messaging approach? ‘, You know companies only react to negative press and activism right?’, ‘This is never going to work unless you hold them accountable.” ….and on and on….


So let me give you a little background both on the History of Color and our thought process ….

- The first ‘official’ artificial color was created in 1856 by a gentleman named William Henry Perkin who discovered the first synthetic organic dye, called mauve.

- By 1881 multiple colors had been ‘discovered’ and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Bureau of Chemistry began research on the use of colors in food. Butter and cheese were the first foods for which the federal government authorized the use of artificial coloring.

- By the 1900 many foods and cosmetics were colored with artificial dyes. However many were plainly poisonous and others simply irritating.

- In 1906, Congress passed the Food and Drugs Act, prohibiting the use of poisonous or deleterious colors in confectionery and the coloring or staining of food to conceal damage or inferiority. The USDA had initial enforcement authority for this act.

- In 1907 they approved a list of seven artificial colors.

- In 1927, responsibility for enforcing the Food and Drugs Act of 1906 was given to the newly established FDA.

- By 1931, there were 15 straight colors approved for use in food, including six of the seven in use today.

- In the 1920s and 1930s, it became clear that the Food and Drugs Act of 1906 did not go far enough to protect the public health from misbranded, adulterated, and even toxic products, including an eyelash dye that blinded some women.

- The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 further increased government oversight of food and drugs. FDA also established labeling and recordkeeping provisions, identified diluents that could be added to color additives, and established procedures for requesting certification of color additives and adding new color additives to the permitted list.

- In the fall of 1950, many children became ill from eating an orange Halloween candy containing 1-2% FD&C Orange No. 1, a color additive approved for use in food resulting in the Color Additive Amendments of 1960 .

- All color additives required to be listed by the FDA fall into two categories: those that are subject to FDA's certification process and those that are exempt from the certification process. Color additives subject to batch certification are synthetic organic dyes, lakes, or pigments.

- Color additives exempt from certification generally include those derived from plant or mineral sources.


I am going to stop our history lesson here and refer you to this article posted on the FDA website where All of the above was pulled and there is much more…. My point in this little history lesson is this – Manufacturers and the FDA have known since the 1906 that artificial dyes pose a significant health issue, both applied topically and ingested.


Additionally there have been multiple “calls for action” on this since the 1950’s calling for the removal of these harmful colors as a plethora of “natural” alternatives have been tested and approved by the FDA. Even in the last 5 years the technology has made it less expensive to change over to natural colors and the development of naturally derived colors has also exploded. No longer do manufacturers need to change an entire products recipe to make that switch.

Of note: European countries began banning or requiring Warning labels on artificially colored foods and cosmetics in 2003, followed shortly by Canada, Brazil, China and many others. Product manufacturers were faced with the decision to stop exporting, add a warning label (NOT good for marketing or PR) or create their products with natural food coloring. Meanwhile these same products continued to be manufactured and sold in the USA with artificial colors.


Fast forward to our campaign…. We did the research and began to dig for facts and determine how useful the more traditional activist approaches to calling for change. We discovered the long history of this issue. We also discovered the dozens of previous petitions on multiple platforms calling for the removal of artificial colors., ranging from hundreds of thousands of signatures to those that garnered only a handful.


One such campaign on Change.org called for the removal of artificial colors from M&M’s in 2013…with over 216 thousand signatures, Mars, the manufacturer of M&M’s, CEO reversed an earlier quote and said "Eliminating all artificial colors from our human food portfolio is a massive undertaking, and one that will take time and hard work to accomplish," said Grant Reid, Mars president and CEO. "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." That was announced in 2015. The CEO indicated it would take 5 years to make the transition in all of their products. However in 2019 M&M’s still contain artificial colors.

In 2015, 11 multi national brands promised the removal of artificial colors by 2018…many are well on the path to doing so, but not all have completed the process. We wanted to make sure they know consumers had not forgotten their promise and that we still do not understand why they can make and sell their products in the rest of the world, with natural colors, but the US products lag behind.


So after all the research and all the meetings we realized that companies were in fact making the changes they promised too, those that had completed the process or were close to it seemed to be thriving. We looked at all the articles and comments and all the negative coverage since 1906 – (yeah that was fun) and realized more negativity thrown on the pile was having Zero effect.


Looking at the modern use of Social Media to spread a message and the current movement in our turbulent world to be more positive. We adapted that approach to our campaign.


Realizing that we would have a hard time being taken seriously by the brands we wanted to influence led us to adopt the approach, “We thank you for beginning the process and sticking to it, however we also want you to know that we will provide consumers with a list of naturally colored alternative products to the ones they love that you manufacture and ask them to switch to the naturally colored product until the day arrives that their favorite brand completes the transition from artificial dyes to only natural colors.”


The traditional activist approach to shame companies into changing has been waged in this arena since 1906 and gotten us where we are today. Let's finish the journey by staying positive and celebrating the victories and moving our money and influence to the brands who made the switch and then back to the brands that we love once they do as well.


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