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Editors' Note, August 1, 2013:
The cochineal/carmine food color issue just won't go away. The most recent flap involves Dannon using these crushed insects to brighten the appearance of some of their yogurts.

Dannon Bugs Its Customers

Dannon has joined the lineup of companies that find it necessary to crush insects to add color to some of its products. The distinguished list of companies includes Starbucks and Tropicana. Both added cochineal or carmine derived from crushed insects to make their products more visually enticing.

Dannon Yogurt Starbucks removed the carmine from their products, substituting tomato lycopene powder. Tropicana has not changed its formula for Red Grapefruit juice drink (30% juice) that still contains carmine along with a heavy dose of high fructose corn syrup. Tropicana does offer Farmstand Strawberry Banana, a 100% fruit and vegetable juice that is colored by strawberry puree and beet juice.

Purchasers of Dannon yogurts will find "carmine" on the ingredient list of its "Fruit on the Bottom" yogurts in these flavors: boysenberry, cherry, strawberry, and raspberry. The company obviously feels these products need a red boost that can only be achieved with crushed beetles.

Dannon also utilizes carmine in some of their Activia Light, Activia Harvest Picks Probiotic, Activia Fiber and Oikos Fat Free Greek Yogurts. Carmine is found in Activia Light strawberry, strawberry banana, blueberry, and raspberry. Oikos Fat Free Greek Yogurt features the bug coloring in blueberry and strawberry.

The latest criticism of Dannon was spearheaded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) that was instrumental in the campaign to label products that contained carmine. Prior to 2006, companies could use the phrase "natural color" if the product contained carmine. CSPI accuses Dannon of misleading customers who think fruit is responsible for the color of the yogurt. CSPI acknowledges the carmine can cause allergic reactions in some people.

According the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 40,000 cochineal bugs are needed to produce one pound of cochineal extract for carminic acid. In order to create the acid, female insect bodies are dried and then boiled in water.

Editors' Note, May 1, 2012:

Starbucks Is Seeing Red;
They Got the Message We Announced Ten Years Ago

Starbucks announced its products would no longer contain cochineal extract, a red coloring made from crushed insects. As we explained ten years ago in our initial story, carmine or cochineal appears in many products marketed to people who are unaware of its origin.

Now customers won't have the opportunity to sip or chomp on the same old Strawberries and Creme Frappuchino, Strawberry Banana Smoothies, Raspberrry Swirl Cakes, Red Velvet Whoopee Pie, donuts with pink icing, and birthday cake pops. None of these products are currently kosher or vegan.

Starbucks plans to replace the cochineal with a tomato extract called lycopene. The change will occur by the end of June.

Editors' Note, March 1, 2006:

FDA Proposes Labeling Cochineal

Some of our readers noticed the flap over cochineal and carmine that made the news on January 28, 2006. They pointed out that we had focused on this food coloring back in 2002 when we wrote, "Tropicana Is Bugging Your Juice."

Cochineal Beetle The Food and Drug Administration has finally proposed that manufacturers must indicate the presence of the insect-derived colorings in their food products. This reversal of their previous stance of ignoring this issue was in response to reports of severe allergic reactions to this coloring.

Present labels may indicate "color added," E120, or "natural color" when cochineal or carmine is present in the product. According to the FDA, carmine is used in foods like ice cream, strawberry milk, fake crab and lobster, maraschino cherries, port wine cheese, lumpfish eggs, and liqueurs like Compari. Carmine is also used in lipstick, makeup base, eye shadow, eyeliners, nail polishes, and baby products. Cochineal extract is present in fruit drinks, candy, yogurt, and some processed foods.

The FDA has not decided to ban the food colorings because there is no "significant hazard" to the public. The agency refused to require manufacturers to disclose the colorings are made from insects and plans to consider labeling prescription drugs that include colorings sometime in the future.

March 1, 2002 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

Tropicana Is Bugging Your Juice

Like many people who read labels on products, Shari Feinberg was shocked to find that Tropicana was "bugging" her grapefruit juice.

When Shari purchased her Tropicana Season's Best Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice last month, she learned the ingredient that gave the beverage its bright red color was carmine. Carmine is derived from the cochineal beetle, a scale insect that is crushed to create this red dye.

Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice Shari's shock led to a phone call to the company. She told the representative, "I don't want to drink crushed insect bodies in my juice. I asked why they couldn't use something like beet juice instead. The nice lady in customer relations took down my comments and said she'd pass them along."

When VIP called Tropicana ( a division of Pepsico) to ask for a list of juices that contained cochineal or carmine, the representative was surprised to learn that both were derived from insects. She said the company had no list of juices that contained these colors. She advised us to read the labels and that all ingredients were clearly indicated on those labels.

A spot check at a local supermarket revealed another juice that had been "bugged." Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Strawberry is "made from fresh oranges, not concentrate, 100% pure squeezed orange juice with calcium and strawberry and natural flavors and ingredients."

The ingredients listed were "100% pure squeezed pasteurized juice, Fruit Cal (calcium hydroxide, malic acid, and citric acid), banana puree, white grape juice concentrate, strawberry juice concentrate, natural flavors, and cochineal extract (color).

The customer relations representative assured VIP that carmine and cochineal are natural colors, and correctly so. She read us this definition of a natural color: "a natural color is derived from animal, plant or mineral sources."

Cochineal and its derivative carminic acid have a long history going back to pre-Hispanic Mexico when the Mixtec Indians used the dried and ground insects to create a color-fast red dye for fabrics.

In the 1900's cochineal-derived dyes began to appear as a food color in pork sausage, pies, dried fish and shrimp, candies, pills, jams, lipstick, rouge, and bright red maraschino cherries.

When red aniline dyes, a coal tar product, appeared in the 1870's they began to replace cochineal in the production of fabrics. They did not replace the cochineal in food until later in the 1900's.

Because red aniline dyes 2 and 40 are both believed to be carcinogenic, cochineal is now being reconsidered as a safe food dye.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest in its Chemical Cuisine: CSPI's Guide to Food Additives describes carmine/cochineal extract as follows:

"Cochineal extract is a coloring extracted from the eggs of the cochineal beetle, which lives on cactus plants in Peru, the Canary Islands, and elsewhere. Carmine is a more purified coloring made from cochineal.

"These colorings, which are extremely stable, are used in some red, pink, or purple candy, yogurt, Compari, ice cream, beverages, and many other foods, as well as drugs and cosmetics.

"These colorings have caused allergic reactions that range from hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. It is not known how many people suffer from this allergy.

"The Food and Drug Administration should ban cochineal extract and carmine or, at the very least, require that they be identified clearly on food labels so that people could avoid them. Natural or synthetic substitutes are available.

"A label statement should also disclose that, Carmine is extracted from dried insects so that vegetarians and others who want to avoid animal products could do so."

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