By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)–A war is being waged against one of America’s favorite candies, with some claiming the sweet treats might be dangerous.  3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more on the growing petition drive.

M&M’S are so popular.  They’re stars of their own TV commercials. It’s those bright colors that have some worried.

On the label you’ll see “YELLOW 6”, “YELLOW 5”, even “RED 40”, all names for artificial food colorings made with a variety of ingredients including petroleum.

But M&M’S in Europe get their color from natural sources mostly plants.

“I just feel like we should at least have the same standards,” said Renee Shutters, who started a petition on  She’s calling on the candy maker Mars to remove artificial food coloring from M&M’S.

More than 153,000 people have signed it.

Renee is convinced the dyes ramped up her son’s hyperactive behavior because it disappeared once she took artificial dyes out of his diet, including no more M&M’s.

“I thank god every single day that we figured this out.  But there are so many parents who will never make this connection,” said Renee.

“Anything that’s really artificial is just kind of questionable,” said Kate Etherington, a Main Line mother of two.  She thinks the petition to get artificial coloring out of M&M’S is a good idea.

“If anything’s a color that it really shouldn’t be in nature then I’m always a little kind of weary about it,” said Kate.

There’s been a lot of debate at the FDA about color additives and hyperactivity, which the agency says is not an issue for most kids.  But the agency does say, “certain susceptible children with ADHD and other problem behaviors…  their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.”

“All of the evidence thus far is anecdotal,” said Dr. Kathleen Boyle, a physician with Lankenau Medical Center.  She isn’t worried about artificial coloring, and says plant based substitutes could cause other issues with allergies, for example.

“There are alternatives, but they may or may not be right for every consumer,” said Dr. Boyle.

Mars says it’s exploring the use of natural colorings and has already obtained FDA approval for natural blue and green dyes.  Adding change won’t happen quickly and until then, “We have absolute confidence in the safety of all the ingredients that we use…”

In November, under similar pressure from parents, Kraft took out the artificial yellow coloring contained in some of its Mac & Cheese products, and swapped it for a natural coloring.

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