Monday, January 5, 2009

It's All Connected

It's sometimes amazing how various otherwise disconnected aspects of our lives can suddenly come together. A while back I posted on the blog some of the Internet research questions I give my students. I also posted this week about a particular food label that was giving me conniptions. Unrelated, right? One of my students got the following question to research: The food colorants carmine and cochineal are made from what substance? Tonight I arrived home to an email from that student with a link to a NY Times article by Sara Parker-Pope on January 5, 2009, about carmine and cochineal. As you will see from the article, there is now a connection to food labels. Thanks MN for the tip.

As it turns out, there really may be a bug in your soup.

The Food and Drug Administration has finalized a rule that will require food companies to list cochineal extract and carmine on the label when they are used in food and cosmetics. But the new rule contains one glaring omission. It doesn’t require companies to tell you that the ingredients come from a bug.

Cochineal extract and carmine, used to dye food, drinks and cosmetics various shades of red, orange, pink and purple, are extracted from the dried bodies of the female cochineal bug.
The F.D.A. typically doesn’t require color additives to be named on food labels. For years, the bug extracts “have been hidden under the terms ‘artificial colors’ or ‘color added,’ ” according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The group says the extracts are commonly used in reddish-colored foods and beverages, including fruit drinks, ice creams, yogurts and candies.
However, the F.D.A. required the ingredients be listed after University of Michigan allergist Dr. James L. Baldwin reported that some of his patients suffered severe allergic reactions to the bug extracts. After C.S.P.I. petitioned the F.D.A. in 1998, the group also received several dozen adverse-reaction reports from consumers.

In a statement, the group criticized the ruling, noting that labels should make it clear that the extracts come from bugs. They argue that people with allergies who want to avoid the foods for health reasons are well aware of what the ingredients are made from. But vegetarians and people of certain religious faiths who would typically avoid a bug-based product may not be aware of the origins of the extracts without more disclosure on the food label.

But the F.D.A. said that the labeling rule that requires companies to just list the name of the ingredient and nothing else gives “adequate information” to consumers who want to avoid the bug-based colorants for religious or dietary reasons. The new rule will take effect in 2011.


Anonymous said...

I assume that the various mashgichim for products that carry hashgocha would know to look out for these two items even if a label only says color added. But makeup is a different story. And so now the question comes up of should you or can you use makeup with bug extracts in them. But even if this isn't a halachic problem I'm just a little grossed out to know I may be putting squished bug color on my face.

Anonymous said...

Offers some proof for the idea that nothing that you learn in college is ever really wasted. You never know when some esoteric piece of knowledge will suddenly become useful.

Anonymous said...

We used to call that red Koolaid drink they used to mix up in camp Bug Juice. Might have been truer then we thought.

Anonymous said...

I think I lost my lunch....