Think you’ve never eaten bugs? Think again…
If you’ve recently eaten Dannon Activia or Fruit on the Bottom Strawberry Yogurt or had a Starbucks Strawberry and Cream Frappuccino, Strawberry Banana Smoothie or their Strawberry cake pops (prior to June 2012) YOU INGESTED BUGS! Yes, bugs (read on for more examples)!
“Dannon sometimes uses an extract made from the pulverized, dead bodies of cochineal insects to give its yogurts fruity red colors.” source
Carmine, a deep red, pink or purple color dye used by many food manufacturers is made from the ground up bodies of Cochineal beetles. These bugs are mainly harvested in Peru and live on the Prickly Pear cacti. The females are plucked from their host, sun dried, ground up, then boiled in an acidic solution. About 70,000 insects are needed to produce one pound of dye. Yum, right?
What Does the FDA Say About This?
Don’t worry, the FDA has your back…well, sort of. As of January 2009, the FDA declared that carmine must clearly be labeled as ‘carmine’ or ‘cochineal extract’ on any future food labels. So sorry to break this to you my Canadian friends, but you may want to run south of the border for this one. Health Canada, although acknowleding the changes the FDA made, has not enacted any changes to the way carmine is to be labelled in the north. In fact, to further disgust you, carmine is allowed to hide under the ‘natural colours’ umbrella in Canada. In the EU, carmine is allowed in certain groups of food but must be clearly labeled as ‘food colour carmines‘ or as ‘food colour E 120’.
Are They Good For Me?
The Aztecs used the cochineal bugs to dye fabrics into vivid, long lasting colors. Notice though, that they didn’t eat it?
Anecdotal side effects include: stomach pains, and other skin related allergic reactions. According to Sally Bundy of the Hyperactive Children Support Group (in the UK), these additives have a negative effect on children’s behavior (source).
But I’m a vegetarian!
Sorry my vegetarian friends. This reminds me of the time when I found out that the little brown specs in my rice (that I had already eaten) were not actually part of the grain but rather little red ants that my grandmother was not able to discern prior to cooking it! *gasp*
Strict vegans may have unknowingly ingested carmine via juice and topically via skin care products. Lacto-Ovo vegetarians may have unknowingly eaten these critters in milk products. Carmine is also obviously not kosher so those who only eat kosher may have also been compromised.
Recently, news has emerged that Dannon uses carmine in four flavors of Fruit on the Bottom yogurt (Strawberry, Raspberry, Cherry, and Boysenberry), and in the Strawberry variety of its Oikos Greek yogurt. It also shows up in various varieties of berry-flavored Activia and Light and Fit Greek yogurts. Depending on where you are geographically, the label can clearly list ‘carmine’ or be hidden behind ‘natural colours’ or E120.
In general keep your eyes wide open and ask lots of questions if you buy ice cream, strawberry milk, juice, candy, imitation crab and lobster, maraschino cherries, port wine cheese, certain fish eggs, and liqueurs like Compari. Carmine is also found in many cosmetics, nail polishes and baby products.
Any Alternatives Libby?
My alternative to pretty much everything is to make my own. Yogurt is super easy to make. You can also add fresh strawberries to your home made variety and skip the bugs all together. If ice-cream is more your thing, you can make your own too!
One Last Tid Bit
Even Nestle UK has answered to public pressure and removed all artificial food coloring from their “Smarties” (similar to M&M’s) sold in the EU and replaced them with natural colors. Granted there’s WAY more wrong with smarties than that, but it just goes to show that companies listen to what the public wants, especially if it is affecting their bottom line.
It also seems like Starbucks got the memo! In June 2012 the coffee giant stopped using carmine to provide a consistent red color to their products that contain strawberry. This happened after a (vegan) barista blew the whistle on a vegetarian website causing a petition to be created. After 6500 signatures were received Starbucks opted to replace their ground up bug coloring with lycopene (an extract from tomatoes). Again, a great reminder that we as consumers have the power!
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