As It Happens

Kraft Dinner's move away from artificial colours incites war of words between bloggers

Depending on how you see it, the bright-orange hue of Kraft Dinner macaroni and cheese is either comforting or worrying. Either way, the artificial dyes that give the Canadian food staple its familiar, otherworldly color -- Yellow #5 and Yellow #6 – are about to be replaced with a natural mix of paprika, annatto and turmeric.
(Canadian Press)

Depending on how you see it, the bright-orange hue of Kraft Dinner macaroni and cheese is rather comforting or worrying.

Either way, the artificial dyes that give the Canadian food staple its familiar, otherworldly color -- Yellow #5 and Yellow #6 – is about to be replaced with a natural mix of paprika, annatto and turmeric.

It's a change that will rollout in the U.S. next January and in Canada by the end of 2016.

Kraft had been planning a reformulation away from artificial preservatives and synthetic colours for some time, but may have been pressured to get it onto shelves more quickly thanks to an online petition circulated by influential blogger Vani Hari, also known as "The Food Babe."

"Food Babe" Vani Hari celebrates Kraft's decision to drop artificial dyes from its macaroni and cheese product in North America. (FoodBabe.com)

In her petition, Hari claimed that the food dyes used in Kraft Dinner had no nutritional value, were "contaminated with known carcinogens" and that their ingestion led to an "increase in hyperactivity" in children. Over 300,000 people signed the online petition.

Los Angeles-based blogger Yvette d'Entremont is rankled by both Hari and her petition. D'Entremont is known as "SciBabe" and is a former analytical chemist who runs a popular website devoted to debunking bad science.

"[Artifical dyes] really haven't caused anyone to come to harm," d'Entremont tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "I think this is more alarmism over something being synthetic or being produced in a laboratory than anything else."

D'Entremont believes that food dyes are safe, especially because the amount consumed is so minimal, and she strongly disputes Hari's claims.

"We have to remember dose makes the poison," she says. "What's the amount that they're getting, how often are people eating this? I think people know when they're eating something like this, they're not getting a big source of vitamin C. This is not a health food, this is comfort food. This is something kids eat because it's something you can get your fussy eater to eat."

A Winnipeg family eating Kraft Dinner (Ruth Bonneville/CP)

The war of words between the Babes – Sci and Food – heated up in recent weeks thanks to an essay d'Entremont posted on Gawker titled "The Food Babe Blogger is Full of S--t."

In the piece, she argues against Hari's campaigns against the chemicals that compose Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte and Subway's bread.

Hari responded to d'Entremont's Gawker piece on her website, and reaffirmed her status as a health advocate: "I want a safer and healthier food system, and some people want to keep the food system just like it is today – broken, corrupt and full of unregulated food additives and chemicals that only improve the bottom line of food and biotech companies and not our health."

The war of words between the two has yet to subside.

"She claims she's a health advocate, but she's asking for people to remove one ingredient at a time from powdered cheese," d'Entremont says. "If she were a health advocate, she'd be trying to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables."

Kraft says their reformulation of Kraft Dinner won't result in a significant change in taste or appearance.

"All of the ingredients must work together to deliver the distinctive taste, appearance and texture consumers expect and love from Kraft Dinner," spokeswoman Kathy Murphy said in an email to CBC News. 

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