Under current federal food labeling laws, food processors can feed people ground-up beetles without having to tell them about it. Actually, they are required to disclose it on their labels, but they have to call it something that sounds innocuous.
You’ll often see “carmine” or “cochineal” on an ingredient panel, which are interchangeable names for a purple-looking dye made by processing the guts of Dactylopius coccus, a scaled cactus-parasite native to Mexico and South America. As reported by NPR last Friday, some conscientious Starbucks customers found out it was being added into their overpriced, fair trade fraps and are now understandably
Cracked.com did a substantially more revolting bit about cochineal in the food system four years ago, Number 3 on this list:
“Carmine is made, literally, from ground-up cochineal insects, which is just a more harrowing way of saying mashed red beetles. Because you’re dying to know more, the insects are killed by exposure to heat or immersion in hot water and then dried. Because the abdomen region that houses the fertilized eggs contains the most carmine, it is separated from the rest of the body, ground into a powder and cooked at high temperatures to extract the maximum amount of color.
Then, it’s added to that yogurt you ate this morning while lording your health consciousness over the guy in the cubicle next to you who had an Egg McMuffin.”
According to the USDA, using ground beetle-abdomen is perfectly legit, so long as the extracted beetle-juice is pasteurized. 21 CFR 73.100. Great, so eating it won’t kill us, but… it’s still beetles.
Federal regulation mandates that food manufacturers label this additive as either “cochineal” or “carmine” on the product ingredient panel. These are the only acceptable words that processors are allowed to use. In other words, if it goes into your product, you must use the designer name of the coloring instead of something accurate but unpalatable like ‘beetle-dust’. It is almost as if federal regulations require food processors to be disingenuous. Thanks to this sleight of hand, unless you were an entomologist, you’d probably breeze right over the ingredient label and never know you’re about to eat beetles. If we had a truly transparent food system, our own laws would force processors to call it “dried and pulverized beetle coloring” instead of some soft trade name. But of course that would make us think twice about eating that blueberry yogurt.
Food law will mandate sanitation (by mandating pasteurization) without ever addressing the issue of whether we should eat some things in the first place.