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You may not know it—-and there’s no reason you would, unless you’re a chemist—-but some of your food and cosmetics include dyes derived from the ground-up bugs. For centuries, Mayans and Aztecs crushed the dried-out bodies of female cochineal insects to produce a red dye used for fabrics, but more recently, the stuff has been used to color candies, yogurts, juices, and ice creams. Consumers, for the most part, have been completely ignorant that they were sucking down bug junk.
But now the Food and Drug Administration is changing that. Earlier this week, the FDA issued a rule requiring manufacturers to list cochineal dye among the ingredients (rather than concealing it as “artificial colors” or “color added”). As this ABC News story reports, the new requirement has nothing to do with alerting consumers to a potential a gross-out factor:
Instead, the FDA is doing so to help prevent dangerous anaphylactic reactions in people who are allergic to the insects and are unknowingly ingesting and/or rubbing the colorful bug powder on their faces.
The labeling of “these color additives in all foods and cosmetics is necessary to ensure their safe use,” stated the FDA report issued Monday.
The new requirement was, in part, a response to a citizen petition about the allergic reactions, first launched in 1998 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, according to the FDA report. But the final rule doesn’t go as far as the center had wanted: an overall ban of the ingredient or a required label to explain that carmine is “insect-derived.”
“We wanted people to know that it comes from an insect,” said Michael Jacobson, the center’s executive director. “Vegetarians, Jews, anybody else who has concerns about eating animal products should know that.”