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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarianism in the News

March 1, 2004 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

Is Gelatin Hiding in Your Food?
Bone Up on Some Hidden Sources

You won't find gelatin in any recipes on this website, but you could find it in many items on the shelves of your local supermarket. Gelatin is derived from materials that could harbor prions that are responsible for BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy).

Gelatin, from the Latin "gelatus," is produced by boiling skin, bones, and connective tissue of animals. The resulting product is collagen, a protein present in animal and human connective tissue. Because gelatin is made from those animal parts suspect of harboring dangerous prions, consumers should be aware of products that contain this item.

The Gelatin Manufacturers Institute of America has compiled the following list of products with this ingredient:

  • Dairy: ice cream, sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream pies
  • Meat: ham, aspics, canned hams, meat loaves, pates
  • Desserts: jellied desserts, puddings, frostings
  • Confectionery: gum drops, lozenges, wafers, candy cigarettes, marshmallows, fruit snacks, gummi snacks
  • Other: consommé soups, sauces
  • Their enumeration may not be completely up-to-date because some of the items they list no longer contain gelatin.

    Gelatin has a long history
    The history of gelatin in the United States dates from the nineteenth century when it was first used in1808. Peter Cooper, who is well known for producing Tom Thumb, the first steam locomotive in the country, also has the distinction of holding the first patent for gelatin obtained in 1845. Most of Cooper's efforts were focused on his glue factory that used the same animal byproducts as gelatin.

    In 1895 Cooper sold his patent to Pearl B. Wait, a cough syrup manufacturer, who teamed with his wife May David to add sugar, flavoring, and food color to Cooper's concoction to create a dessert called Jell-o. Jell-o is still found on grocery shelves 200 years later, but the company is now a division of Kraft Foods Corporation.

    Although Cooper held a patent on gelatin, Charles Knox decided to produce his own unflavored gelatin. In 1894 Knox introduced "Sparkling Granulated Calves Foot Gelatine" along with a recipe booklet explaining the difference between food gelatin and glue used for carpentry. Gelatine is the British spelling of gelatin.

    Producers make health claims
    Over the years numerous health benefits have been attributed to gelatin, especially as an excellent strengthener of hair and nails. In 1998, Nabisco, now the parent company of Knox gelatin, sponsored a study to determine whether gelatin supplements would be helpful in rebuilding arthritic joints. Two of the amino acids found in gelatin are substances the body uses to make collagen, a component of connective tissues like cartilage.

    Of course, the researchers in the study found that supplements helped to keep the joints of the athletes more flexible and helped to reduce pain. The product used in the study was Knox NutraJoint.

    "We cannot exist without protein, therefore edible gelatin--a pure and easily digestible protein--is a particularly important part of our diet," states the Gelatin Manufacturers Institute of America on their website. "Other nutrients, such as fats and carbohydrates, can often substitute each other in human metabolism, but protein can rarely, if ever, be substituted and a regular intake is essential for our health and well being."

    The Gelatin Manufacturers Association of the Pacific extols the virtues of their product by declaring, "Gelatin is a pure, unique, nutritional protein providing many of the essential amino acids. It is not chemically modified, nor produced from genetically modified materials, and, as such, is entirely natural."

    Countering the health claims for gelatin is Professor David Klurfeld, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition and Food Science of Wayne State University. "Gelatin is a poor source of protein, and it is essentially low in essential amino acids. It was the basis for the liquid diets in the 1970's that caused the deaths of dozens of people from lack of essential minerals," says Klurfeld.

    The AMA speaks
    The study of gelatin as a food and medicine goes back well over 100 years. An article in the May 22/29, 2002 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reprints a story that appeared in that same publication on May 31, 1902. In the original article titled "Gelatin as a Food and Therapeutic Agent," the anonymous author describes how gelatin was injected into patients to increase the coagulability of the blood and was considered especially valuable in cases of hemophilia and aneurysms. The article revealed there were cases of people suffering from tetanus following the injections.

    The JAMA article is quite clear about the lack of nutritional and therapeutic values of gelatin by making the following statement:

    "Gelatin is an albuminoid substance obtained by boiling skin, connective tissues and bones of animals in water. When taken alone it has but little value as a food. Animals fed upon it exclusively rapidly lose strength and weight and finally die from starvation. If it is added to other foods, it possesses the property of limiting the consumption of non-nitrogenous materials and saving the waste of albuminous tissues. It takes no part in the repair and growth of tissues and must be considered solely as an 'albumin sparer.' Consequently, gelatin must always be combined with other proper foods. It does not replace albumin, and the destruction of albumin takes place to some extent even when gelatin is taken in large amount."

    The story states that gelatin is easily dissolved and absorbed by the stomach and can be flavored with fruit juices, coffee, sherry wine and other additions and made more palatable by the addition of a meat extract.

    The medical profession still relies on gelatin for pharmaceuticals packaged in gelatin capsules (gelcaps) or pills coated with this substance. Surprisingly, gelatin is still being injected into patients today in some vaccines for rubella, mumps, measles, influenza, varicella, and rabies. This gelatin, used to stabilize vaccines so they remain effective after manufacture, is obtained from pigs.

    The FDA takes action
    In 1997 the Food and Drug Administration issued a position paper titled "The Sourcing and Processing of Gelatin to Reduce the Potential Risk Posed by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in FDA-Regulated Products for Human Use." In the paper the organization made the following recommendations:

    1. In order to ensure that all parties in the distribution chain take appropriate responsibility, importers, manufacturers, and suppliers should determine the tissue, species, and country source of all materials to be used in processing gelatin for human use.
    2. Bones and hides from cattle that shows signs of neurological disease, from any source country, should not be used as raw material for the manufacture of gelatin.
    3. Gelatin produced from bones and hides obtained from cattle residing in, or originating from, countries reporting BSE or from countries that do not meet the latest BSE-related standards of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) should not be used either in injectable, ophthalmic, or implanted FDA-regulated products, or in their manufacture.
    4. At this time, there does not appear to be a basis for objection to the use of gelatin in FDA-regulated products for oral consumption and cosmetic use by humans when the gelatin is produced from bones obtained from cattle residing in, or originating from, BSE countries, if the cattle comes from BSE-free herds and if the slaughterhouse removes the heads, spines, and spinal cords directly after slaughter. Nor does there appear to be a basis for objection to gelatin for oral consumption and cosmetic use which is produced from bones from countries which have not reported BSE but which fail to meet OIE standards if the slaughterhouse removes the heads, spine, and spinal cords after slaughter. Gelatin processors should ensure that slaughterhouses that supply bovine bones for gelatin production remove heads, spines, and spinal cords as the first procedure following slaughter.
    5. At this time there does not appear to be a basis for objection to the use of gelatin produced from bovine hides, from any source country, in FDA-regulated products for oral consumption and cosmetic use by humans use if processors ensure that the bovine hides have not been contaminated with brain, spinal cord, or ocular tissues of cattle residing in, or originating from, BSE countries and if they exclude hides from cattle that have signs of neurological disease (see #2).
    6. At this time, there does not appear to be a basis for objection to the use of gelatin produced from bovine hides and bones in FDA-regulated products for human use if the gelatin is produced from U.S.-derived raw materials or from cattle born, raised, and slaughtered in other countries that have no reported BSE cases and that meet OIE BSE standards.
    7. At this time, there does not appear to be a basis for objection to the use of gelatin produced from porcine skins, from any source country, in FDA-regulated products for human use. Processors should ensure that gelatin made from porcine skins is not cross-contaminated with bovine materials originating from BSE countries or from countries that do not meet OIE standards.

    In July 2003 the FDA researched the safety of beef gelatin in oral and topical drugs, food, and cosmetics. They concluded there was no basis for objecting to gelatin use in cosmetics or products for human consumption. Their recommendation was based on gelatin derived from bones obtained from cattle from BSE-free herds or from countries that have no reported cases of BSE. The animals used must be properly processed to remove the parts in the animals' heads, spines, and spinal cords directly after slaughter. As of December 2003 the United States is classified by the rest of the world as a BSE country and does not meet OIE standards.

    Gelatin used in many products
    Gelatin is present in cosmetics, photographic film, prescription and non-prescription drugs, vitamins and supplements and a number of food products like breakfast cereals, yogurt, energy bars, and candy. Yogurt producers like Yoplait and Dannon feature kosher gelatin. Kosher indicates that the gelatin is derived from an animal that is mercifully slaughtered according to the laws of kashruth. Continental and Mountain High yogurts do not contain gelatin. Soy yogurts are also gelatin-free.

    Manufacturers of energy bars also embrace gelatin, but they are not always forthcoming about its presence. Carb Solutions High Protein Bars list hydrolyzed collagen as one of the ingredients. Odyssey Triple Layer Protein Bars honestly calls that ingredient hydrolyzed gelatin, while Advantage Carb Control Nutrition Bars just lists gelatin.

    Many people may be surprised to learn that some juices and wines are clarified with gelatin. There is no indication on the label to indicate that gelatin is used in the processing. Similarly, labels on packages of sugar do not have to mention that the sugar was processed over animal bone char.

    Vegetarians seeking to avoid gelatin can find ingredients that have similar properties. Agar-agar, carageenan, guar gum, and xantham gum are all plant-based and are used as thickeners, emulsifiers, and for gelling.

    VIP surveys market shelves
    In a survey of supermarket shelves, VIP found the presence of gelatin on the labels of many food items. This list below is not intended to be all-inclusive, but is designed to alert our readers to the necessity of reading food labels.

    Breakfast Cereals

      General Mills Lucky Charms
      Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats
      Kellogg's Cinnamon Marshmallow Scooby-Doo
      Kellogg's Magix
      Kellogg's Smorz
      Trader Joe's Frosted Mini-Wheats


      Mountain Dairy


      I Can't Believe It's Not Butter

    Energy Bars

      Advantage Carb Control Nutrition Bar
      Carb Solutions High Protein Bar
      Odyssey Triple Layer Protein Bar

    Cookies, Cakes, and Pies

      Sara Lee French Cheesecake
      Nabisco Devil's Food SnackWells


      Black Forest Gummy Bears
      Snak Club Apple and Peach Rings
      Creme Savers Soft Candy
      Brach's Fruit Ripples
      Junior Mints
      Jello Pudding Bars
      Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows

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