Lisa Leake and Vani Hari say they grew up eating Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Leake used to serve it to her daughters, now ages 8 and 5. But when the two North Carolina food bloggers learned that the U.S. version of the popular convenience food contained two additives that have been removed from its European counterpart because of stricter food safety rules, they wondered why American consumers weren't getting the same protection. And they turned to an online petition in hopes of marshaling support to demand a change.
As of late Thursday, more than 60,000 people had signed the two-day-old petition on the social action website Change.org, asking consumer food giant Kraft to provide the same additive-free mac & cheese stateside.
Leake, of Matthews, N.C., and Hari, of Charlotte, have posted a YouTube video showing them taste-testing the U.S. version and the British version (known as Cheesey Pasta), which have "little difference in color and virtually no difference in taste," says the petition.
The additives -- yellow dye 5 and yellow dye 6 -- are both legal and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but serve "aesthetic purposes" only, and have "been banned in countries like Norway and Austria (and are being phased out in the U.K.)," the petition says.
They point to research conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that says the two food dyes have been associated with hyperactivity in children, allergies, migraine and, because yellow dyes are petroleum-based, perhaps cancer.
Kraft isn't the only food company that markets products in the USA that contain ingredients not allowed in Europe or that reformulate foods to meet other countries' safety regulations, says Hari, who writes the blog Food Babe.
"But Kraft is an iconic American brand," she says. And in their effort to draw attention to the issue, "we wanted to make sure we targeted (a company) that could set an example of providing safer foods, eliminating ingredients that are bad for health reasons, and get away from this double standard."
Kraft has "already formulated a safer version and we deserve the same in the U.S." says Leake, who writes the blog 100 Days of Real Food. "These additives provide no value to the foods, but they do pose risks."
Kraft spokesperson Lynne Galia said in a statement, "The safety and quality of our products is our highest priority and we take consumer concerns very seriously. We carefully follow the laws and regulations in the countries where our products are sold. So in the U.S., we only use colors that are approved and deemed safe for food use by the Food and Drug Administration."
She said the company's expanded line of Kraft Mac & Cheese offerings includes 14 items available in the USA that are free of "added colors, as well as products with natural food colors," such as KMC Organic Cheddar.
But a number of items in the Mac & Cheese line contain the dyes, says Hari, "including several targeted to children who are most at risk for these health issues."
"If they say safety is their highest priority, why still use a questionable ingredient that has a warning label when used in Europe?" asks Leake. "It doesn't make us feel that it's their highest concern."
The food bloggers' petition is the latest lobbying effort to address food additives. Last fall, Sarah Kavanagh, a Mississippi teenager, made national headlines when she started a Change.org petition to get PepsiCo to stop using brominated vegetable oil, an emulsifier, in its Gatorade.
According to Megan Lubin, communications manager for Change.org, more than 40,000 petitions are started every month on the site "on a wide array of topics." Some of the "most high-profile campaign victories" have been around food and beverage issues, she says, including:
-- A vegetarian food blogger successfully petitioned Starbucks to stop using crushed bugs (cochineal) to color their drinks.
-- A 10-year-old Jamba Juice fan helped the company cut out Styrofoam in favor of a more environmentally-friendly alternative material for serving its smoothies.
The bloggers hope their campaign is equally effective.
Kraft "could be a real leader and offer us the same safer ingredients they offer in other countries, even if technically they're allowed to" use them in the USA, Leake says.
Michelle Healy, USA TODAY