June 23, 2008— -- 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.