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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Beetles used for natural food coloring

Although it's difficult to know how many consumers realize that insects are commonly used to color cosmetics and foods, more are about to realize it. The Food and Drug Administration recently changed its requirements for food and cosmetics companies so that when the insects are used for color, carmine and cochineal must be listed among the ingredients. Previously the dried body of the cochineal bug could fall under the term "artificial colors" and did not need to be listed.

The ruling is the result of a decade-long battle that began when the Washington, D.C.,-based public health advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called for tougher labeling laws for the insect ingredient. "It's a health issue. Some people have severe reactions to [the insect ingredient] and can go into anaphylactic shock. Consumers, especially children, need to be able to read an ingredient list and see if it's being used," said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. Vegetarians, Jews and Muslims also deserve to know when this ingredient is used, he said.

Daniel Fabricant, vice president for scientific affairs for the Natural Products Association, doesn't think the labeling change will have a big impact on the naturals community. "Most naturals products consumers are savvy and realize that carmine is often used for color. Many may actually prefer it to artificial colors; it is a natural ingredient," he said.

To make the ingredient, bodies of female beetles are dried, ground and heated and the colored powder is removed, according to the Wall Street Journal. Roughly 70 thousand beetles make 1 pound of usable carmine.

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