The problem: Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, two artificial food dyes that give the dish it's day-glo hue but also contain known carcinogens. In Europe, foods that contain Yellow 5 are required to carry a warning label, and the chemical has been banned outright in some countries, including Norway and Austria. In 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban eight different food dyes found in nearly everything kids like to eat today (even plain white marshmallows have blue dye in them).
"A lot of American companies use ingredients in the products they sell in the US that are no longer used, and are in some cases banned in other countries," Leake told Yahoo! Shine in an interview on Wednesday. "We were just appalled."
In the United Kingdom, Kraft's "Cheesey Pasta" comes in a red-and-yellow box—and doesn't contain artificial food dyes. Instead, the company uses natural colors from paprika extract and beta-carotene to create the dish's iconic color for British consumers.
Leake and Vani Hari, who writes the blog Food Babe and guest posts once a month on Leake's blog, 100 Days of Real Food, decided to launch a petition at Change.org
, calling on Kraft to give U.S. consumers the same chemical-free formulation that they currently sell in the U.K. They racked up more than 18,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
"McDonald's french fries has basic ingredients in the U.K.: potatoes, salt, and oil," Hari told Yahoo! Shine in an interview. "But here in the United States they use an ingredient that's an anti-foaming agent that's used in Silly Putty."
Betty Crocker cake mixes, Pringles potato chips, Rice Krispies, Starburst candies, and Diet Coke were among those that use artificial flavorings, colorings, and preservatives in the U.S. but leave them out of their European versions. Kellogg's strawberry Nutri-Grain cereal bars, for example, are colored with Red 40, Yellow 6, and Blue 1 in the United States but use beetroot, annatto, and paprika in their "soft bake bars" sold in the United Kingdom.
"These companies already have better, safer versions of their products formulated and for sale in other countries overseas," Leake pointed out. "In some cases, that's because their consumers demanded it. But nobody has done anything over here yet."