Sunday, January 29, 2006

News You Can Use (or Not), Issue #1

CNN is reporting that the Food and Drug Administration, under pressure for years in the matter, is now proposing that products using the dyes cochineal extract or carmine disclose these names on packaging. Although no widespread health hazard has been associated with either of the two substances, several dozen people have reported hypersensitivity to them. More important to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which petitioned the FDA nearly eight years ago on the matter, is that these two dyes are extracted from insects: specifically, females of the species Dactylopius coccus costa, two of which are shown on a prickly pear in the inset. Native to Meso-America, these insects have been harvested, dried, and crushed for red dye since the time of the Aztecs. During the early years of the Spanish occupation, D. coccus costa was second only to silver as commodity export. Because of their value and the virtual monopoly the Spanish held on them, live specimens of the cactus-sucking insects were taken from their native land and cultivated elsewhere.

Their popularity has not diminished to this day. Up until now exempt from certification, carmine is the red dye of choice for everything from strawberry ice cream to port wine cheese, and the cochineal extract gives red lipsticks their luscious hue, nail polishes their "my fingernails are attractive when they look like they're bleeding" appearance, and eyeliners their "my eyes make me look vampire dead" yummy goodness. Other and specific examples of products that use the substances can be found at "Products to Avoid," offered by the Vegetarian Network Victoria.

Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is not satisfied with the labeling requirements the FDA is proposing because simply naming the substances does not provide people with any indication about the origins of the chemicals. He wants the FDA rule to explicitly direct that "insect-based" be put on labels for products that use cochineal extract or carmine.

The period in which public comments can be made on the proposed regulation for labeling products containing cochineal extract or carmine ends on April 27, 2006. Electronic comment submissions may be made via the Food and Drug Administration Dockets Open for Comment.

The Dark Wraith neither endorses nor criticizes the use of ground insects in cosmetics and food products.

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