Dannon Chooses Bugs Over Berries

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Carmine, or cochineal extract, is a popular food additive created by crushing up bugs and is often used to lend a food product a bright red or pink color. Though carmine is safe and considered to be all natural, some become squeamish when they consider the food coloring’s origins. Now one watchdog group is calling out Dannon yogurt for using the bug juice to color Boysenberry, Cherry, Raspberry and Strawberry versions of their “Fruit on the Bottom” yogurt available in stores. The group has also started an online petition at TakePart.com to urge the CEO of Dannon’s parent company, Groupe Danone, to swap carmine for actual fruit.

In a press release entitled “Berries Over Bugs!,” Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) executive director Michael F. Jacobson explains how carmine is made and why they’re calling on Dannon to change their ways.

“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,” explains Jacobson.

“Given the fact that it causes allergic reactions 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?”

There are nine other flavors that appear in other varieties of Dannon yogurt, such as the Strawberry version of their Greek yogurt brand, Oikos. Reddish versions of their Activia and Light and Fit varieties also use the extract.

Though carmine appears in the ingredients label in each of the yogurts listed, the CSPI claims Dannon isn’t being upfront with their customers and cheating them out of natural flavor from fruits.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows carmine as an additive, though there have been cases of people reporting an allergic reaction to the extract of dried up cochineal bugs. These cases are, however, few and far between. The FDA claims they see an average of 31 adverse reactions to carmine in the US per year. The FDA also allowed companies for many years to refer to carmine or cochineal extract simply as “artificial color” on their labels, a change which the CSPI proudly says came after one of their petitions to the government body. Though they settled on calling the additive by its name, the CSPI was pushing the FDA to describe carmine as “insect-derived” on the label to make vegetarians, Jews who keep Kosher and anyone else dubious about eating bugs aware of how their food had been colored.

It may be for this reason the CSPI is crying foul again over the bug extract. Their petition to Franck Riboud, CEO of Groupe Danone, begins with:

“It has come to my attention that in 13 of your fruit-flavored yogurts, you use carmine to give those products additional red color. Quelle horreur!”

Starbucks also came under fire for using carmine to give their Strawberries and Cream Frapuccinnos their red color last spring when the company admitted the bug juice was in the puree used to make the summer beverage.

Starbucks claimed they used the extract to stick with their commitment to using all-natural products and steer clear of artificial dyes.