Is Red 40 Vegan? Here’s Why You Should Avoid It At All Costs

Is Red 40 Vegan?

Is Red 40 vegan or should vegans steer clear of this ingredient? Find out why you might want to avoid this harmful ingredient altogether.

You've most likely come across Red 40 if you've picked up a bag of candy or another artificially colored product like a sports drink. These days, you'll literally find the dye in everything, even cosmetics.

In fact, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Red 40 is the most commonly used food coloring in the United States. Although approved by the FDA, Red dye 40 fills no real purpose, and there are better alternatives on the market.

Thanks to the ingredient’s red color, many people tend to confuse Red 40 with Carmine (Cochineal) which is another popular red dye made from crushed bugs.

So, is Red 40 Vegan?

Yes, despite common misconceptions, Red 40 is vegan because the ingredient is not animal-derived. Instead, Red 40 is made from petroleum byproducts or coal tar.

With that said, Red 40, like all artificial colors, is routinely tested on animals. Personally, we try to avoid the dye as much as possible since although technically vegan, Red 40 is certainly not without cruelty.

Besides that, the artificial color is an especially controversial ingredient because it has been found to cause a slew of health issues that we’ll discuss further down.

What Red 40 is Made From?

How is Red 40 made? liquid being poured

The official name of Red 40 is Allura Red AC which is a red azo dye. In addition, Red 40 also goes under the E number: E129.

Red 40 does not naturally exist in our environment, and there are currently two ways to produce it. Originally, the dye was made from coal tar, but now it is largely derived from petroleum.

That’s correct, byproducts from the oil industry are used to create an ingredient that is later added to our food. Sounds appetizing, right?

Besides being derived from coal or petroleum, Red dye 40 contains a mixture of chemicals that have proven negative health effects on humans and animals.

Red 40 was first introduced as an alternative to other red food dyes such as Cochineal with the goal of offsetting costs and streamlining production. The coloring has also completely replaced amaranth (Red 2) and almost replaced erythrosine (Red 3) which are two artificial colorings that are even worse for your health than Red 40.

Consider Red 40 the lesser of two evils.

As mentioned, Carmine (Cochineal) is extracted from insects and is therefore not vegan. But unfortunately, as you’ll see below, Red dye 40 is not a cruelty-free option nor a good vegan alternative.

Red 40 Vegan But Not Cruelty-Free

Mouse - Animal tests done with Red 40

So, what is the verdict, is Red 40 vegan?

In our opinion, although not animal-derived, Red 40 can't be considered vegan-friendly for two reasons.

  1. Red 40 has been tested on animals as recently as 2018 and you can expect testing to continue because of how dangerous artificial colors are.
  2. Red 40 serves no purpose other than to make food look more ”attractive" which makes the suffering of animals used in the experiments especially unnecessary.

Animal Testing Associated with Red 40

Unlike other ingredients that were tested on animals years or even decades ago, Red 40 dye has recently been tested.

For example, between 2009 and 2015 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducted re-tests on food dyes and other additives. This means that the EU tested Red 40 as recently as 4 years ago.

Moreover, researchers continuously perform additional tests in order to reevaluate the artificial color's harmful effects. We found many recent animal studies regarding Red 40.

There was a test performed using cows in 2017 and another test done on rats in 2018. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Many of these tests include having animals injected with Red 40 while other tests require the animals to ingest huge amounts of food dye. In the end, the animals that don’t die from poisoning are euthanized so that researchers can conduct further testing of their organs and intestines.

During the countless experiments, many animals from mice and rodents to dogs and cows have been used used. And they all had to suffer needlessly before dying a completely unnecessary and much too early death.

Also, as mentioned, Red 40 is completely unnecessary and could easily be replaced with healthier plant based options.

In other words, Red 40 poses an ethical dilemma for vegans. On the one hand, the ingredient does not contain any animal derivatives. But on the other hand, it’s definitely not cruelty-free.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide if you want to consume artificial colors or not. Just consider that the testing of artificial colors is ongoing and that you're literally ingesting petroleum.

Personally, we believe that each of us has the power to vote with our money and we choose not to buy products containing dyes.

What is Red 40 Used For?

Red candy with food coloring

As mentioned, Allura Red AC is mainly used to make otherwise dull looking food products bright red. Everything from cupcakes and candy to chips, sports drinks, and even breakfast cereals may contain Red 40. In certain cases, Red 40 can also be used in tattoo ink.

Moreover, Allura Red is regulated under different laws in the US and the EU and therefore used differently.

  • In the US

Since Red 40 is used as an alternative to Red 2 and Red 3 as well as Cochineal in many products, there is no longer any doubt that it's the most used red dye in the United States. In fact, few red colored products in the US don't contain Red 40.

Today the dye is approved by the FDA and can be used in cosmetics, medications, and food. There are literally thousands of products that contain Red 40.

  • In the EU

As is often the case, the regulations regarding Red dye 40 are stricter in the EU than in the US. Allura Red has mostly been approved to be used in selected food products.

In fact, because food dyes are so harmful, they have to be clearly marked on food products in the European Union with a warning that states, ”May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

That’s right, a warning! No such thing exists in the United States.

Also, until 2001, Red 40 and other red azo dye were banned in Norway and Iceland. The color was also banned in Sweden until 1994 when they had to change their regulations upon entering the EU.

Additionally, Red 40 has been banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, and Switzerland. Even today, the EU is still struggling to agree on whether or not they should ban Allura Red altogether.

Unfortunately, these bans had nothing to do with the cruel animal testing of Red 40 but rather the health concerns surrounding the dye.

Health Concerns

Doctors walking - Red 40 vegan

The health concerns surrounding Red 40 is a highly debated topic, mainly because there are so many of them. In fact, the health risks are one of the main reasons why many people avoid the use of Red 40 altogether.

Firstly, research has found clear links between artificial colors including Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 and an increased risk of cancer.

In addition, Red 40 dye is known to cause a range of allergic reactions in humans, something both the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have openly admitted to. Recorded allergic reactions include rashes and itching as well as headaches and problems concentrating.

However, the worst and potentially most concerning health risk of Red 40 has been seen in children, especially in regards to the behavior of children. Studies have shown how food dyes have a direct effect on hyperactivity in children and can cause learning disabilities.

Being the fact that Americans on average eat five times the amount of food coloring today than in 1955, makes the concerns even greater. In fact, with Red 40 being the most consumed artificial color in America, millions of people are actively poisoning themselves.

Additional Health Risks in Animals

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there is a large selection of other health risks that have been recorded in animals. These side effects have all been found during gruesome animal testing which includes extreme intakes of Allura Red.

For example, recent research has found damage to reproductive organs in rats, immune system tumors in mice as well as allergic reactions in most of the exposed animals.

How to Spot Red 40 in Food Products

Powdered Red 40 on a table

By now, chances are that you would like to start avoiding Red 40. Maybe because you’re vegan and can’t support the animal cruelty, or because you’re concerned about your own health.

The only issue is that not consuming Red 40 is easier said than done. As mentioned, Red 40 can be found in almost all red food products in the US. Even worse is that this harmful substance has so many names that it can be hard to keep track of them all.

Also, unlike other animal-derived ingredients that are marked as allergens in bold, Red 40 is not an allergen and is therefore concealed among ingredients.

Some of the most common names for Red 40 used in ingredient lists are:

  • Allura Red
  • Allura Red AC
  • Red 40
  • Red Dye 40
  • Red #40
  • Red 40 Lake
  • E129
  • FD & C Red No. 40
  • FD and C Red No. 40
  • C. I. 16035
  • C.I. Food Red 17

Artificial Colors Serve No Purpose

Multi colored powders

Perhaps our biggest bone to pick with artificial colors is that their use is wholly unnecessary.

Considering all of the concerning health effects of artificial dyes like Red dye 40 which require ongoing animal testing, why don't companies stop using these harmful dyes altogether?

Ask yourself why alongside gelatin, Starburst fruit chews in the US are filled with a cocktail of harmful artificial colors like Red 40, Brilliant Blue 1, and Yellow Lake 5, and so forth.

Across the pond in the UK, Starburst are made without artificial colors and colored naturally with real food ingredients like spirulina and beta-carotene.

We are talking about the exact same candy here! Hence, you can see how completely unnecessary food dyes truly are.

And this doesn't just apply to Starburst. There are countless US food companies that sell dye free versions of their products in Europe while continuing to use artificial colors in America.

Let us finish by saying this, artificial colors have no purpose and add nothing to a product except to make it look more "appealing." With so many sources of natural plant-based food coloring, there is no place for artificial dyes.

What's your opinion? We'd love to hear what you think, tell us in the comments!


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