The recent horse meat contamination scandal is sending shock waves across the United Kingdom and the entire world, and rightly so. But did you know that appalling ingredients lurk in everyday foods, and they're far from making headline news? Ammonia-cleansed pink slime meat created quite the fuss among the media and parents in the past year. That's great, because really, who wants their kids eating pink slime? However, pink slime meat may honestly be the least of your worries. From GMOs to arsenic to chemical food colors to mountains of pesticides - the American food system was hardly clean before the pink slime story broke. There's always been potentially harmful and gross issues with the same food system almost all of us buy from and serve up to our families daily. From mashed cochineal beetles (shown above) in your Starbucks smoothie to rodent hair to antifreeze, many of the foods you eat everyday contain some truly horrendously disgusting ingredients. Keep reading to see 6 of the ickiest additives added to everyday food products.
Starbucks recently came under fire from the vegan community for admitting that the red dyes used in their strawberry drinks contained cochineal, a coloring made from crushed parasitic beetles. While animal rights activists aren’t pleased with Starbucks, it’s not as if this company is alone in their use of this beetle dye. Cochineal dye, produced from dried female cochineal beetles, has been used for centuries and today is found in plenty of goods like cosmetics, pop tarts, red candies and red-tinted yogurts and juices. On ingredient lists, you may see this listed as carmine, crimson lake, cochineal, or natural red #4.
We can only hope Starbucks makes good on their intention to switch to using Tomat-O-Red Dye instead of crushed beetles, as a response to outraged customers who don’t want beetles in their Frappuccinos.
Glyphosate is the active chemical ingredient in the notorious weed killer, Roundup. This chemical is so heavily used at this point that it’s now detected in soil, air, bodies of water and rain – meaning, at this point, escape is dubious, even if you eat mostly organic. In 2009 alone the USDA reports that nonorganic farmers poured 57 million pounds of glyphosate on food crops. Basically, Glyphosate is meant to do one thing – kill. It kills broadleaf plants, grasses and other plants. Because it’s a systemic herbicide, the chemical goes into the plant, not just on it, which means we eat Glyphosate when we choose food it’s been used on. The EPA classifies Glyphosate as only slightly toxic, yet various studies have linked it to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage, nose and throat irritation and the National Pesticide Information Center (pdf) notes, “Swallowing products with glyphosate can cause increased saliva, burns in the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.” So, by all means, let’s keep pouring this stuff on crops.
Castoreum extract doesn’t sound too scary, but it’s actually a bitter, orange-brown substance retrieved from the beaver’s anal gland. Yum. This additive can be found in many processed food products that are flavored vanilla or raspberry, like ice cream, yogurt, cookies and the like. What’s worse, or perhaps more curious is who on earth came up with this as an ingredient in the first place? What’s even worse is that it’s hard to avoid. Most food products simply list this additive as, “natural flavoring,” which in truth we suppose it is. Still, vegans and vegetarians plus people who might like to avoid beaver anal secretions in their milkshake, may find this “natural flavoring” a bit hard to swallow.
Shellac is what makes jelly beans shiny and gives that lacquered finish to other sweet treats along with fruit and coffee beans as well, and it’s all thanks to excretions of the Kerria lacca insect. Shellac is also used as a wood finishing material. This is generally regarded as safe for human consumption, but the gross factor may freak some people out.
Bugs & Rodent Hair
Most of us weren’t pleased to hear that the FDA decided to keep BPA in the food supply. However, if they’re fans of BPA, what else do you think the FDA allows in food before taking action? The answer – quite a lot. The FDA’s Defect Levels Handbook shows that an average of 30 or more insect fragments and 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams of peanut butter, a kid staple, is allowed, before any action is taken. An average of 60 or more aphids and/or thrips and/or mites per 100 grams of frozen broccoli is allowed while 5 or more fly eggs and 1 or more maggots per 100 grams of tomato juice is okay. Obviously, no one expects food to be perfect. Like the FDA states, “It’s economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.” Also the FDA notes that these are mostly aesthetic problems that, “Pose no inherent hazard to health.” Still, it’s nice to know what you’re eating, right? And what you’re eating, according to the FDA, may include maggots, mold, insect fragments, parasitic cysts and more.
Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, was first used to keep plastics from catching on fire and it’s patented as a flame retardant, which obviously makes it the perfect additive for sports drinks and sodas right? I mean we wouldn’t want you bursting into flames during a jog. Although BVO contains questionable chemicals and it’s banned in food products in Europe and Japan, American companies add it with glee to various sodas, juices and sports drinks. BVO helps to keep the artificial flavors from separating from the rest of the liquid, but is sorely under-researched. In fact, Environmental Health News notes that BVO FDA limits are based on outdated data from the 1970s, and scientists say the chemical deserves another look as it’s been linked to bromide poisoning symptoms like skin lesions, memory loss, nerve disorders and some research suggests that BVO builds up in human tissues, just like other flame retardants. In big doses, BVO may be very bad, as some rodent studies show that large amounts result in reproductive and behavioral problems.
Lead Image by Flickr User cote