"We remain committed to offering choices," emailed Kraft spokeswoman Lynne Galia. "We already offer 14 varieties of Mac & Cheese with natural colors or no colors at all. . . . At the same time, many people love the great taste of Original KRAFT Mac & Cheese just the way it is, so we'll continue to offer that choice as well."
But the iconic product line, with dozens of the most popular versions, is the key issue, because it's aimed at kids, Hari said this morning, phoning from North Carolina.
Just look at the colorful boxes, many of which feature cartoons, she and Leake point out in videos at Change.org and foodbabe.com.
And Kraft can easily make the change, Hari said, because it already has a recipe that looks and tastes the same without artificial colors.
It's sold as Cheesey Pasta in the United Kingdom.
"I think it's really important that people get educated on this topic," Hari said.
The dyes in question are Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine) and Yellow No. 6 (Sunset Yellow).
Citing concerns about links to hyperactivity in children, the Center for Science in the Public Interest asked the FDA to ban these and seven others dyes in 2008.
Kraft's case: Yellows 5 and 6 aren't risky. "The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed them safe for use in food. Other experts, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), have reached a similar conclusion," said Galia.
Hari points out that the European agency requires a warning label for both dyes that states, "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."
The Change.org petition, though, goes much further: "Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are contaminated with known carcinogens (a.k.a. an agent directly involved in causing cancer)," and "have been linked to long-term health problems such as asthma, skin rashes, and migraines."
However, in a 2009 review of Yellow No. 5, the EFSA concluded that "the effects reported in these studies are not expected to result in carcinogenicity."
The following year, its report on the two dyes and four others concluded, "it is unlikely that oral consumption of the food colours under consideration, either individually or in combination, would trigger severe adverse reactions in human subjects at the current levels of use."
On the other hand, in 2011, the EFSA, which regularly seeks out new research, lowered its recommended levels for Sunset Yellow because of new evidence about the hyperactivity connection.
Why take chances? Hari and others argue.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, when issuing its report, " Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks," declared, "Considering the adverse impact of these chemicals on children, and considering how easily they can be replaced with safe, natural ingredients, it's time to get rid of them altogether from the United States and Canada."
Some public reaction, mostly agreeing with the petitioners, has surfaced on Kraft's Macaroni & Cheese page on Facebook.
Carol A Mejia: "It's not that long ago that people thought smoking was ok. We now know better. We also know that petroleum does not belong in food but yet you cower behind the apron of the FDA trying to justify your greed for higher profits... shame on you!"
Mack Rhoades: "Don't give in to pressure on yellow color. I have been eating Kraft Mac & Cheese all of my life and I am 56. I will continue to eat it for another 56 years if I am lucky."
Sharlene Neal: "Remove the dyes from your product or i will stop purchasing them and i will keep sending the word out to other parents. Shame on you for caring less for our children than for those in other countries!"
Kraft spokeswoman Galia disagrees about the taste and look of Cheesey Pasta.
"Both the pasta and the cheese sauce are different," she emailed. "Our KRAFT Mac & Cheese Organic Cheddar option is more similar to Cheesey Pasta and is currently available in the US. It does not have artificial colors, and has the added benefit of being organic."
Hari remains hopeful Kraft will change its mind, and other U.S. companies will follow.
"We thought they would be the right company to lead the way," she said. ". . . So far, they are in denial."
Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or firstname.lastname@example.org.