When Robyn O'Brien served her children scrambled eggs one day for breakfast early in 2006, the mother of four had no clue it would change her life drastically and forever.
"I had made scrambled eggs and put them in front of all four kids and decided to put them in front of the baby," the 36-year-old said. "I put them on her highchair and she didn't want them, fussed and pushed them away. And I didn't think anything of it."
But 9-month-old Tory's aversion to the breakfast staple had little to do with taste, as O'Brien soon found out.
"I put her down for a nap. A few minutes later and there was some mother instinct in me because I went in to check on her for some reason, which I rarely do, and her face was swollen shut," O'Brien said.
A life-threatening reaction to eggs caused grotesque swelling of the infant's face and instantly shook O'Brien to her core. She said her daughter's severe response prompted her to take a closer look at what she was feeding all of her children and to educate herself on food allergies.
"I did not know what was happening. I was so unfamiliar with food allergy and what a reaction looked like," said O'Brien, who lives in Colorado. "That's really when my education began."
What O'Brien soon learned was that artificial dyes are used in sugary cereals, candies, sodas and other goodies marketed toward children. Sometimes artificial dyes are even used to simulate the colors of fruits and vegetables.
What further disturbed O'Brien was the fact that U.S. consumers regularly ingest the additives in their food, but they have been removed from the same foods in some other countries.
In fact, Mars Inc. responded to pressure from the British government last year by removing artificial colors from its well-known Starburst and Skittles candies sold in the United Kingdom, after a British study bolstered a hypothesis that such additives increase hyperactivity in children.
Food industry giant Kraft Foods Inc. also did the same thing in early 2007 with its British version of Lunchables.
Whereas British consumers have revolted against artificial food dyes in the U.K., Americans haven't been as vocal as their counterparts. That is something O'Brien hopes to change.
"My goal is simply to have the same value placed on the lives of the American children," O'Brien said.
O'Brien even created a Web site, which she launched on Mother's Day 2006, to serve as a parental resource and forum on children's food allergies.
The site is specific with its concerns.
"At AllergyKids, our concern is that industry funding ties between the agri-chemical companies and pediatric allergists who have served on the FDA 'generally recognized as safe' panels and testified to the safety of MSG, aspartame, glutamate and genetically engineered proteins, may prevent full disclosure of leading global research highlighting a ban of these ingredients in Europe, Australia, the UK and other developed countries in an effort to protect children," the site says.
O'Brien even created a symbol — a green stop sign with an exclamation point in the center — to identify a child with food allergies. It can be put on lunch bags, wristbands and even shoes.
"My goal now is to say, 'OK, this is what's happening. Let's inspire other mothers to take control so that our children can benefit like the children around the world,'" O'Brien said.