Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said Dannon uses carmine -- a dye extracted from the dried, pulverized bodies of cochineal insects -- to give fruit-flavored yogurt their pink color.
The dye is used in the Strawberry flavor of Dannon's Oikos brand of Greek yogurt, two flavors of Dannon's Light and Fit Greed use the extract, as do six of its Activia yogurts.
However, Dannon uses other natural colorings, such as purple carrot juice, in its Danimals line of yogurts marketed to children, CSPI said.
CSPI's Chemical Cuisine guide to food additives says "certain people should avoid" carmine since a small percentage of consumers can have reactions ranging from hives to anaphylactic shock after eating it, Jacobson said.
"I have nothing against people who eat insects, but when I buy strawberry yogurt I'm expecting yogurt and strawberries, and not red dye made from bugs," Jacobson said in a statement. "Given the fact that it causes allergic reactions in some people, and that's it easy to use safer, plant-based colors, why would Dannon use it at all? Why risk offending vegetarians and grossing out your other customers?"
The cochineal is a scale insect native to tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico. It lives on cacti and produces carminic acid used make carmine dye used as a food coloring and for cosmetics, especially lipstick.