WASHINGTON—Dannon is under fire for using bug-based ingredients in its yogurts and The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is urging the yogurt-giant to use "berries over bugs".
Similar to Starbucks, who received public criticism in 2012 for using cochineal extracts derived from the cochineal bug, Dannon uses carmine—a dye extracted from cochineal insects—to give its fruit-flavored yogurts several varieties of their pink color. CSPI, a nonprofit food watchdog group, feels Dannon's use of the bugs tricks consumers who likely expect that the named fruits—not the bugs—are providing the yogurts' color.
The creepy crawly-based dye is used in several varieties of Dannon's "Fruit on the Bottom" line including Strawberry, Cherry, Boysenberry and Raspberry flavors. Likewise, the Strawberry flavor of the company's Oikos brand of Greek yogurt is made using the bug-based dye. Also, two flavors of Dannon's Light and Fit Greek use the extract, as do six of its Activia yogurts.
The bug-based dye puts some consumers at risk of serious allergic reactions. CSPI's Chemical Cuisine guide to food additives states that "certain people should avoid" carmine since a small percentage of consumers have reactions ranging from hives to anaphylactic shock after eating it.
The group is sponsoring an online petition urging Franck Riboud, CEO of Dannon's parent company Groupe Danone, to remove the bug-based dye and replace it with more of the fruit advertised on the label. "I have nothing against people who eat insects, but when I buy strawberry yogurt I'm expecting yogurt and strawberries, and not red dye made from bugs," said Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI executive director. "Given the fact that it causes allergic reaction in some people and that it's easy to use safer, plant-based colors, why would Dannon use it at all? Why risk offending vegetarians and grossing out your other customers?" he added.
Responding to the criticism, Michael J. Neuwirth, senior director of public relations at Dannon, stood by the company's use of carmine. "Any of our products that contain carmine clearly list it as an ingredient," he told The Huffington Post. "Anyone who wishes to avoid it can," he added.
Ironically, Starbucks will soon include Dannon products in its new offerings. By spring of 2014, the coffee-giant will carry Dannon Greek-style parfaits. Although, as The Huffington Post stated, it's unlikely that Starbucks would want to have a repeat of the backlash it received last year that resulted in the company removing the bug-based ingredient from its products and replacing it with a natural color, lycopene, which is a tomato-based extract.
The cochineal insect is a tiny, parasitic scale insect native to South America and Mexico. The insect lives on and feeds off of a certain type of cacti and the red color comes from carminic acid, which the bugs have in abundance. It takes about 40,000 of the tiny bugs to produce one pound of cochineal extract, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization. In addition to yogurts, carmine is commonly used in candies, ice creams, and beverages, as well as in drugs and cosmetics. In response to a CSPI petition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires carmine to be listed on food labels when it's used. In the past, companies could hide the presence of the insect by labeling it as an "artificial color". However, the group urged the FDA to further describe carmine as "insect-derived," making it easier for vegetarians, those who keep kosher, and anyone else averse to eating bug-derived ingredients.