Should Dannon color its yogurt with insects?

Becky Oberg's picture

There's more in your "Fruit on the Bottom" yogurt than you realize--it may contain dye made from insects!

According to a press release from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Dannon uses carmine—a dye extracted from dried, pulverized bodies of cochineal insects—to give several varieties of fruit-flavored yogurt their pink color. Boysenberry, Cherry, Raspberry and Strawberry flavors of Dannon’s “Fruit on the Bottom” line all contain the additive, as does the Strawberry flavor of Dannon’s Oikos Greek yogurt. Two flavors of Dannon’s Light and Fit Greed use the additive, as do six of its Activia yogurts.

“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,” CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said in the press release. “Given the fact that it causes allergic reactions in some people, and that’s it easy to use safer, plant-based colors, why would Dannon use it at all? Why risk offending vegetarians and grossing out your other customers?”

According to CSPI, the cochineal insect is a tiny parasite native to South America and Mexico. It lives on and consumes a certain type of cacti. The red color comes from carminic acid in the insects' bodies. Wikipedia reports that the dye, also called cochineal extract, carmine, crimson lake, natural red 4, C.I. 75470, E120, and natural coloring, is made by boiling the powdered insect bodies are boiled in ammonia or a sodium carbonate solution, The insoluble matter is then filtered out, and alum is added to the solution. Stannous chloride, citric acid, borax, or gelatin may also be added.

CSPI is sponsoring an online petition on urging Dannon to use fruit to color the yogurt instead of the insect-based additive.

"If you think that your yogurts are insufficiently pink or red, please consider using additional fruit, and not carmine or synthetic dyes, to color them," reads the petition, titled "Berries Over Bugs". "If Dannon insists on continuing to use carmine, at the very least it should indicate that the uncommon ingredient is derived from an insect."

In response to a 1998 CSPI petition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required carmine to be listed on food labels when it is used in 2009. Previously, companies could label it “artificial color.” CSPI urged the FDA to go further and describe carmine as “insect-derived,” making it easier for vegetarians, Jews who keep Kosher, or anyone otherwise averse to eating such ingredients to avoid it.

Image Source: Wikipedia