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FDA: You're eating crushed bug juice

Cochineal extract, carmine should be listed on labels, officials say


WASHINGTON (AP) -- That ice cream you're eating or the lipstick you're wearing just might contain extract from crushed bugs. On purpose.

And the government thinks you should know.

The Food and Drug Administration proposed Friday requiring food and cosmetic labels to list cochineal extract or carmine if a product's ingredients include either of the two red colorings that have been extracted from the ground bodies of an insect known since the time of the Aztecs.

Release of the proposed rule came after the FDA received 35 reports of hypersensitivity to the colorings, the agency said. A 1998 petition by the Center for Science in the Public Interest asked that the FDA take action.

The widespread use of the dyes in everything from yogurt to lipstick hasn't exactly been well-disclosed: The ingredients typically are listed as "color added" or "E120," the FDA said.

Carmine puts the red in ice cream, strawberry milk, fake crab and lobster, fruit cocktail cherries, port wine cheese, lumpfish eggs and liqueurs like Campari, according to the FDA. Carmine is also used in lipstick, makeup base, eye shadow, eyeliners, nail polishes and baby products, the agency said. Meanwhile, cochineal extract shows up in fruit drinks, candy, yogurt and some processed foods.

That can upset vegetarians, Jews trying to keep kosher and anyone who might blanch at learning their blush is made from bugs.

Not that the stuff hasn't been around long: Indians living in pre-Columbian Mexico were the first to recognize a cactus-sucking insect called the Dactylopius coccus costa was a good source of dye.

Now, like then, cochineal extract is made from the dried and ground female bodies of the insect. Carminic acid gives that extract its dark purplish-red color. That acid is used in turn to make carmine.

The FDA ruled out banning the use of the colorings since it found no evidence of a "significant hazard" to the general population. It also declined to require that labels disclose the colorings are made from insects, as the Center for Science in the Public Interest had asked.

"Why not use a word that people can understand?" said center executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "Sending people scurrying to the dictionary or to Google to figure out what 'carmine' or 'cochineal' means is just plain sneaky. Call these colorings what they are: insect-based."

The FDA said comments on the proposed rule are due April 27. The FDA plans to tackle the labeling of prescription drugs that include the colorings in a separate rule.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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