Bug used as Red Dye in Cosmetics and Food now Requires Disclosure

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Cochineal colors, used to make red dye for food, beverages and cosmetics, has been mandated for disclosure to consumers, finally being recognized as an allergen by the FDA. Manufacturers of consumer goods are going to have to list the ingredient on their labels, but not until January 5, 2011.

The FDA published the new rule this week, after recognizing that doing so might protect what they term a "small subset" of people from allergic reactions – some severe.

The additives, carmine and cochineal extract are widely used to provide red color to products such as fruit drinks, candy, yogurt, cosmetics and ice cream. Carmine is the extract taken from the cochineal bug. If you squeeze a tiny cochineal bug, it expresses the liquid dye, which then undergoes a pasteurization process to destroy bacteria. Cochineal extract comes from the dried bodies of the female cochineal beetle that is then further processed. Carminic acid is the principle-coloring agent used in consumer goods, containing cochineal extract and carmine – collectively known as "cochineal colors".


Allergies to cochineal colors have been well documented. Reactions to the red bug dye include asthma, anaphylaxis, influenza type symptoms, watery eyes and nose, sneezing, diarrhea, chills, vomiting, shortness of breath, and lip soreness and bleeding from cosmetics in sensitive individuals. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the FDA August 25, 1998, "to either revoke approval of the colorings or require that they be clearly labeled by name."

CSPI's response to the current FDA regulation is less than enthusiastic, given their decade long fight for labeling of the potentially dangerous food coloring. Executive director Michael F. Jacobsen writes, "That's useful progress. But, ideally, FDA should have exterminated these critter-based colorings altogether. The only way people can determine that they are sensitive to them is to suffer repeated reactions, including potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. Also, the FDA should have required labels to disclose that carmine and cochineal are extracted from insects, which many consumers—including vegetarians, Jews, and Muslims—would be interested to know."

The FDA states that the bug dye is safe, and not a major food allergen. The new labeling will not require any statement identifying cochineal extract and carmine as potential allergens, nor will labeling require identifying the bug dye as an insect protein. Until 2011, the red bug dye will continue to be listed as "color additives".

Labeling of Bug-Based Food Colorings Will Help Some Consumers
Federal Register, Jan. 5, 2009; vol 74: pp 207-217.



Thanks for this information!. Glad we have writers like YOU around to keep us informed. 2011? I will never understand WHY research proves something as being a Health Threat, then don't actively publish the findings (especially in product labels) until a few years later. Thanks again for being "on the mark" with your information. Heaven help us if we have to wait for the "public notices" to arrive. Keep up the great work!
Hi! Thank you!!!! In the meantime, you have to wonder how many allergy sufferers never have a clue, having been to the doctor for the usual testing, Many people are savvy, and have eliminated many unnatural products from their daily lives. They report improvements in overall health and well-being.
The lac beattle from Africa is used (ever hear of shellac?) is used to make the wax put on grocery store produce to preserve shelf life,reduce dehydration, it can't be washed off, peeling the fruit wastes the vitamins and flavor in the peel. The public is not informed, have no choise but can avoid grocery store produce by buying at local farm markets, ask the farmer if he uses Lac wax.
Hi! Thank you for that information. I am a huge proponent of buying local produce. Is that perhaps the same kind of wax found on our cucumbers also?