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FDA Orders the Insect-Based Color Additives Carmine and Cochineal Extract to Go on Food and Cosmetic Labels

Jan. 6, 2009 -- Foods and cosmetics containing the color additives carmine and cochineal extract, which are made from an insect, must list those ingredients on their labels starting on Jan. 5, 2011.

The FDA published that new rule in yesterday's edition of the Federal Register, citing reports of "severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis" in a "small subset" of people with allergies.

Carmine and cochineal extract are extracted from dried cochineal bugs and are used in "dozens of reddish-colored foods and beverages, including fruit drinks, ice creams, yogurts, and candies," states a news release from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The CSPI petitioned the FDA in 1998 to require that carmine and cochineal extract be specifically listed on product labels, and not just as "color additives."

In its new rule, the FDA states that it doesn't consider carmine and cochineal extract to be "major" food allergens, and that carmine and cochineal extract are safe when used in accordance with regulations for color additives.

The FDA won't require food labels to state that carmine and cochineal extract are derived from insects. And the labels won't have to flag those ingredients as potential allergens.

The FDA notes that its new rule was motivated only by reports of allergic reactions; it wasn't about alerting vegetarians or other people who avoid animal-based products.

The FDA's new rule is "useful progress. But ideally, FDA should have exterminated these critter-based colorings altogether," CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson says in a news release.

While the FDA's new rule won't become mandatory for two years, food and cosmetic makers may change their labels to note carmine and cochineal extract sooner, on a voluntary basis.

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