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Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarianism in the News

March 2, 2015 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

Don't Put Beaver Butt Juice in My Food

And now, is the vegan world ready for beaver butt juice??

Like so many of you, we read food labels to find out what's in the product to make sure it doesn't contain any animal ingredients. Unfortunately, many shelf items don't have a "v" symbol or the word "vegan."

As we have discovered, many products contain ingredients we wouldn't even feed to our pets. In past articles we revealed information like coloring in fruit juice that was derived from cochineal (crushed beetles). We also wrote about non-dairy creamers that had the audacity to contain dairy. In both cases, if the buyer took the time to read the contents and understood what cochineal and sodium caseinate (a milk derivative) were, purchase would not be an option.

Unfortunately, avid label readers really don't know what they're getting when they see the phrase "natural flavor." or just the word "flavoring" as we pointed out in our V8 Juice/Campbell's Tomato Juice story.

According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 Section 101.22


    "The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."

Unless the product is confirmed as vegan, that natural flavor could come from a plant or animal source.

So, how does beaver butt juice fit into this natural flavor picture?

Beaver butt juice is known by the name "castoreum." Website snopes.com that deals with urban myths and legends describes it this way:

    "Castoreum (or castor, not to be confused with the oil of a castor bean) is a yellowish-brown, unctuous substance with a strong, penetrating odor which beavers secrete from castor sacs located in skin cavities between the pelvis and the base of the tail and spray when scent-marking their territory. (The location of the beaver's castor sacs means that castoreum also often includes a mixture of anal gland secretions and urine as well.) "

To put it more bluntly, this yellowish-brown fluid is full of piss and shit.

The Snopes description continues:

    "Due to the beaver's typical diet of leaves and bark, castoreum doesn't "stink" as other similar animal secretions do, but rather has a musky, vanilla scent described at the perfume site Fragrantica as a "sharp spreading tar-like note that reminds one of the odor of birch tar or Russian leather" that when diluted in alcohol picks up "more pleasant, musky and fruity nuances."

Your US government is responsible for including castoreum on a list of natural flavors that don't have to be identified on a food ingredient listing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) has placed this beaver butt juice on its generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list.

According to the FDA,

    "Castoreum extract (CAS NO. 8023-83-4; FEMA NO. 2261) is a natural product prepared by direct hot-alcohol extraction of castoreum, the dried and macerated castor sac scent glands (and their secretions) from the male or female beaver. It has been used extensively in perfumery and has been added to food as a flavor ingredient for at least 80 years. Both the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regard castoreum extract as generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Acute toxicity studies in animals indicate that castoreum extract is nontoxic by both oral and dermal routes of administration and is not irritating or phototoxic to skin. Skin sensitization has not been observed in human subject tests. Castoreum extract possesses weak antibacterial activity. A long historical use of castoreum extract as a flavoring and fragrance ingredient has resulted in no reports of human adverse reactions. On the basis of this information, low-level, long-term exposure to castoreum extract does not pose a health risk. The objective of this review is to evaluate the safety-in-use of castoreum extract as a food ingredient."

Beaver Castor Sacs Chef Jamie Oliver stirred up the castoreum dust in April 2011 when he shocked late-night host David Letterman by telling him that castoreum was used to create a natural vanilla or strawberry flavor in ice cream.

The Vegetarian Resource Group joined the controversy in June 2011 by sending a query to five companies that used vanilla flavoring. VRG reported, "All five unanimously stated that castoreum is not used today in any form of vanilla sold for human food use. "

Fenaroli's Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, Fifth Edition reported that castoreum was used in alcoholic beverages, baked goods, chewing gum, frozen dairy, gelatins and puddings, hard and soft candy, and non alcoholic beverages. The book also included information about how much was used in the United States in 1994, approximately 292 pounds that year.

What none of these sources consider is that many beavers are killed for their fur. The beaver gland sacs are removed and then dried to create castoreum. Another method of obtaining castoreum is to anesthetize the beaver and then squeeze its anal glands to access a sticky fluid. You might call that putting the squeeze on the beaver.

Unless the consumer spends considerable time and energy to investigate "natural flavor," he/she will never know what lurks behind those words. It could be beaver butt juice or other unpleasant sounding ingredients a manufacturer is not required to disclose.

Many food companies feel they need to protect their foods from being duplicated by other food manufacturers. Their only protection is to hide behind labels like "natural flavor," "artificial flavor," and "artificial color." Perhaps, we need to have the FDA take a closer look at the items in those categories to see whether they're not only safe, but also desirable, if people knew their sources.

Unless the public demands a change in the policy of permitting food companies to use these broad categories instead of listing the actual ingredients, we could all all end up with fragrant piss and shit in our food.

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