Sue's Blog

Food colours – Shame on you, FSANZ!

According to the latest survey results (1) from the PISA program for International Student Assessment

- Australian school scores have plummeted globally (in maths, reading and science) over the last 18 years, see graph below
- New Zealand and Australian students now rank 27th and 29th of 79 countries for maths
- 7 Asian countries are top, followed by many European countries with the UK at 18th


Experts can’t explain this dramatic decline, nor why UK for instance went up since 2010 in maths and reading - but it is pretty obvious to us that our food regulators FSANZ are to blame for not following the 2010 lead of the European food standards agency regarding artificial colours. EU countries are generally flat-lining, not declining, but they have always used few artificial colours.

Europe acts, Australia doesn’t

In Europe, a massive British government-funded study (2) found that artificial colours can 'reduce the ability to benefit from schooling' and that even 'normal, healthy children’ can be affected.  As a result, the European food standards agency made the following warning mandatory for artificially coloured foods in 2010

“may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”

BLOGcolour02   From Seeing red: a time for action on food dyes, CSPI (3)

Many food companies didn’t want to show that warning, so they removed the artificial colours from their foods.  According to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (3)

“The British government and the European Union have taken actions that are virtually ending the use of most food dyes throughout Europe”

In the US

Like Australia, the USFDA has not done anything to protect or inform consumers, despite acknowledging (3):

“Exposure to food and food components, including artificial food colors and preservatives, may be associated with adverse behaviors, not necessarily related to hyperactivity, in certain susceptible children with ADHD and other problem behaviors, and possibly in susceptible children from the general population”


In Australia, this product may contain “colour (124)”, an artificial red (4)

So, does diet affect academic performance?

A recent Australian study (5) on the association between diet and children’s NAPLAN scores found academic performance was deleteriously associated with a nutrient-poor diet but not associated with a nutritious diet.

Researchers suggested that perhaps it is not the actual nutrition affecting performance, but that food additives such as colourings and preservatives may be negatively impacting academic performance. Yay! We’ve been saying that for years.

Five reader reports

“Most of the time my 5-year-old daughter is a nice sweet girl but then sometimes this monster will emerge … we can usually trace it back to something with bright colours like doughnuts with sprinkles etc  …  I have realised that a lot of her staple snack foods have the food colours that have been banned in the UK … in particular the Quelch 99% fruit juice super doopers which I stupidly thought were healthy choices!” - Lyndal from story [936]
“I am an 18 year old student … I started doing badly in school the exact time that I moved to the city, and started eating more junk food like meat pies … I continued to do worse and worse in school until I dropped out last semester. The diet has been immeasurably useful for me. I can now think better, clearer, and I can reason logically where before an idea would just revolve around in my head ... Thanks to the diet, I am going to try again to pass Year 12 next year, so I can go to university” – Russell from story [1019]


“Here are pictures of my 7yo son’s homework.. .one week apart... one week he was Failsafe, the next week.. .not so much. I don't think I need to point out which is which…” - Susan from story [1310]

“I am a 42 year old male that has bad reactions to annatto as well as other colors. I have suffered depression/anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and have been very unhappy since my mid to late teens. Around 3 years ago I gave up Mountain Dew [with artificial color yellow 5, tartrazine 102] just to be healthier. My body and mind responded by feeling better. After researching more I gave up other colors … By not eating or drinking foods with color I am happier and can find joy. I only wish I had known this 30 years ago - David USA from story [1434]

"Ten years ago the teachers and doctors wanted to medicate our daughter for ADHD ... Last year she graduated high school with one of the highest scores which guaranteed her entry into top universities …  My advice to those starting the failsafe journey ... hang in there ... the rewards are well worth the effort" – D (2013) from story [1480]

Not just in foods

Of course, colours are also in medications. In our profit-driven culture, the TGA doesn’t even pretend to protect consumers from colours. Colours don’t have to be listed - this means that parents may not realise the product contains colours, and most doctors, dentists and pharmacists know nothing about their effects on some children.

“Our daughter, now 6 yrs, has been taking a particular brand of fluoride tablets for the past two years … We could see we had been making a huge mistake and stopped the tablets immediately. Over the past two weeks we have seen our daughter’s behaviour and learning abilities progressively improve to the point where she is a different little girl …” – Darren from story [798]

“At an emergency chemist I was given red medicine for my boy. I explained to the pharmacist that my boy has ADHD and was intolerant to red colouring. Thought I would relay the conversation:

Pharmacist: Well it isn't red, its pink so should be ok
Me: Pink is red colouring, he is intolerant to red
Pharmacist: But if you tell him pink isn't red then it'll be ok
Me: No, he can't have anything that is red colouring; red, pink, orange, or purple. If he does he starts spinning around and acting crazy.
Pharmacist: How about you hide it in something
Me: If someone is allergic to nuts, spreading vegemite over peanut butter doesn't make them less allergic. Just like red food colouring.
Pharmacist: Oh, you could mix it with milk to make it paler.

Thankfully at this time a senior stepped in, before I throttled the guy “– Julie from story [1298]

More info

Intro to food intolerance

FREE failsafe booklet
FREE failsafe DVD
The best way to get results is with the help of an experienced, supportive dietitian, see our list of those who support a trial of the RPAH elimination diet 

My books (no need to buy, they are in libraries) and RPAH’s Friendly Food book


1. PISA 2018: Australian school scores fall on the world stage by Sherryn Groch “In eighteen years of global student testing, Australia has recorded one of the sharpest falls in performance of any country …”

2. Donna McCann et al, Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial, Lancet,2007;370(9598):1560-7. A British government-funded community-based, double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject, crossover, food challenge study examined the effect of 2 types of artificial food colour and additive preparations (representing typical consumption of sweets or candies) on 136 3 year olds and 119 8-9 year old children in the general population (not necessarily ADHD).  

3. Lefferts L, Seeing red: a time for action on food dyes, CSPI, 2016

4. Maccas allergen, ingredients and nutrition information nutrition accessed 6/11/2020

5. Pearce K et al, The apples of academic performance: association between dietary patterns and academic performance in Australian children, J School Health, 2018;88(6):444-449.

Historical background

In the 1970s,with the widespread introduction of highly processed foods into our food supply,  Dr Benjamin Feingold - American paediatric allergist and head of the allergy for the Kaiser-Permanente hospital group in California – proposed that food additives (and salicylates) were linked to behavioural problems and learning disabilities in children. He warned that children’s behaviour and LD would increase if this link was ignored. Feingold BF. Hyperkinesis and learning disabilities linked to the ingestion of artificial food colours and flavours. J Learn Disabil.1976;9(9):19-27.

One of the best studies ever about artificial colours, this study by education expert Dr Ken Rowe and his wife paediatrician Dr Kathy Rowe found that irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance were the main effects of artificial yellow colouring 102 in a dose-related manner. Tragically, Dr Ken Rowe died in Victoria’s black Saturday bushfires. K S Rowe , K J Rowe, Synthetic food coloring and behavior: a dose response effect in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, repeated-measures study, J Pediatr, 1994;125(5 Pt 1):691-8. 

A restrictive diet for children suffering from ADHD can be so beneficial that many of them can stop taking medicine altogether, according to a Dutch study published in The Lancet. After five weeks, two-thirds of the children on the special diet no longer had any behavioural problems.  Pelsser LM et al, Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial, Lancet,20115;377(9764):494-503.

In 1985, a similar trial of the RPAH Elimination Diet with 140 behaviourally disturbed children found that nearly two thirds (61%) improved significantly and that a suitable diet could usually be devised for each child within three months. We recommend the RPAH Elimination Diet supervised by an experienced and supportive dietitian because it is equally effective and much easier to use. Swain A et al, Salicylates, oligoantigenic diets, and behaviour , Lancet, 1985;2(8445):41-2. /information/Swain%20et%20al%201985.pdf