If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to consume fewer bugs, you’re about to get some help. Starting Wednesday, food and cosmetics companies will be required to inform consumers if beetle juice is a product ingredient.
The Food and Drug Administration issued the new labeling rule in response to reports of severe allergic reactions triggered by coloring additives extracted from female cochineal insects, tiny beetles that feed on cacti.
Beetle-based coloring additives will be identified on labels as cochineal extract or carmine. The new warning is intended to alert people with allergies. Its aim isn’t to give a heads up to vegetarians or others who want to avoid eating critters, so there are no other clues that there are bugs in a product.
The color additives derived from insects are used to give foods, beverages and cosmetics a pink, purple or red hue. Among the dozens of foods containing the coloring agents are candy, ice cream, yogurt, popsicles, artificial meat and seafood, grapefruit juice and some alcoholic beverages.
Although the new label ruling does not yet apply to alcohol, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a Treasury Department office, recently proposed changing its regulations to require disclosure of the presence of cochineal extract and carmine. The bureau proposes that any alcoholic beverage must declare the presence of the additive “prominently and conspicuously.”
Foods and cosmetics manufactured before Wednesday that already are stocked in stores are not affected by the new ruling and may carry old labels, such as “coloring added” or “artificial color.”
The nonprofit consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest has urged the FDA for more than a decade to ban the insect-based coloring additives. As FairWarning pointed out in an August commentary, the group began to petition the FDA in 1998, after a University of Michigan allergist determined that a patient had gone into life-threatening anaphylactic shock after eating a red popsicle.
The group’s executive director, Michael F. Jacobson, said that, in addition to having potentially harmful health effects, artificial colorings also mislead consumers into thinking that the red hues come from natural ingredients like cherries or cranberries: “Their only use is to deceive consumers. And in this case, unlike some other colorings, carmine and cochineal can cause severe allergic reactions.”
Even with the new ruling, consumers need to maintain good label-reading habits. For example, a box of Trader Joe’s “meatless corn dogs” does not indicate on the front of the package that the product contains an insect extract. That information only is found in the long list of ingredients, where carmine is identified as a coloring additive.