SONYA COLBERG Published: July 18, 2009
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e group filed its first FDA petition in 1998 seeking labeling for the substance, more research and a possible ban.

The FDA also learned of at least 11 adverse event reports linked to the substance.

The FDA received numerous comments on the issue, including one suggesting labeling would burden manufacturers because some customers might avoid products. The FDA rejected that notion. So did Jeff Cronin, Center for Science in the Public Interest spokesman.

"How about food manufacturers color their food with real food?” he said. "Why use Red 40 or carmine to color your strawberry yogurt red? Why not use real strawberries?”

Oklahoma living
Look around Oklahoma County and you can find prickly pear cactus spreading out in the sunshine in overgrazed pastures or wherever the soil’s not the best. Get close and you might see what looks like dabs of tissue paper stuck on the plant. That’s the protective shield made by the tiny insects.

If you scrape up some, put it on your hand and squish it, red juices pop out, Garrison said.

"I think it’s a pretty benign additive to foods, in my opinion. Probably the shock value ... people say, ‘What? They’re intentionally putting bugs in stuff I eat?’ That has a grossness factor to it,” Garrison said. "If you get right down to it, like honey, that’s a direct product of insects.”

He said the issue is much like how bees make honey: they take up flower nectar, process it in their stomach and regurgitate it.

"What if they relabeled bee honey, ‘bee vomit?’” Garrison asked.

He said he has no problem with the labeling requirement or concern over the bug derivative’s use.

Not everyone feels the same way.

"We’ll have to decide, natural products with allergic problems or artificial dyes with cancer problems,” Dewitt said.

But Cronin said he’ll continue to pore over labels, searching for cochineal extract or carmine. He said manufacturers should go with the other option.

"I think, like a lot of people, I prefer my food be colored by real ingredients,” he said. "Not bugs or chemicals.”