Karen Langhauser, Editor-In-Chief, Food Manufacturing

I’ve honestly never paid much attention to packaging labels, and perhaps that makes me an irresponsible consumer – but the way I look at it, that’s my own choice.

The FDA recently published a final rule that amended its regulations to require the declaration by name of the color additives cochineal extract and carmine on the label of all food and cosmetic products in the U.S., effective January 2011. To the slightly haphazard consumer (myself), this is just another ingredient listed on the label. However, this ingredient is unique in that it actually comes from the bodies and eggs of Cochineals, which are tiny, oval-shaped insects that live on cacti.

Once you get past the gross factor, the situation begs a bigger question. Consumer groups are not satisfied with the new rule, because it does not require companies to explicitly state on the label that the product contains insects. They claim that this knowledge is important to people with allergies, as well as vegetarians and certain religious groups.

So my question is, where does the responsibility lie? If processors provide an adequate list of ingredients, is it their job to then define the ingredients or should consumers have to do the research?

I compare the scenario to fueling my car. Upon inspection of the pump, I notice it reads “contains 10% ethanol.” There is not explanation of what ethanol is or what effects it will have on my car. If I’m that concerned about it, it is up to me as the car owner to do some research – I can’t rely on the gas station for knowledge.

Between issues surrounding the declaration of allergens, genetically modified foods, irradiation and organics, labeling concerns are already a momentous task for food manufacturers. In a recent survey of our readers, 40 percent reported labeling regulations as the most challenging compliance issue in their plants.

While eating cochineal extract poses no risk to healthy consumers, the term “insect” does not exactly sound appetizing on a label. And there are a multitude of other ingredients in our food whose definitions probably wouldn’t read so well either. I think that if consumers truly care about what they eat, whether it be for their own peace of mind or due to dietary restrictions, they should take the time to do something as simple as an internet search to understand ingredients.

And as far as I’m concerned, I’ll take my insects with a side of ignorance.