Beetlejuice: Using Bugs as Food Dye Is Legal and Common

"Beetlejuice" is more than just a movie name -- foodmakers regularly use crushed female cochineal beetles to dye food, particularly certain yogurts, juices and candy, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

While shocking, it's perfectly legal, the paper reports. Foodmakers don't have to list the bug-based ingredient, because beetles are part of nature. Only man-made dyes, like FD&C Red No. 40, have to be listed.

But that may change soon. The Food and Drug Administration may recommend that companies list beetle additives as "carmine" or "cochineal."

Why? Using beetles in food proves problematic for vegetarians, people who keep kosher and for those with certain food allergies.

The public health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest has long asked the FDA to change the requirements for food labels so that they more clearly state ingredients that could conflict with people's diets or trigger allergies.

As it states on its Web site: "Cochineal extract is a coloring extracted from the eggs of the cochineal beetle, which lives on cactus plants in Peru, the Canary Islands and elsewhere. ... These colorings have caused allergic reactions that range from hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock."

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