In reviewing the state of food transparency, we’ve seen everything from turkeys pumped plump with free glutamate to kidney cells coated with human tongue receptors, hooked up to a matrix at Senomyx, decanting the global market’s next great stealth flavor permutations.
It’s an unsettling world of trick labels, opaque chemical equations, masquerading ingredients and vaguely familiar frankenflavors. It’s also what we consume: often willingly, often despite our best efforts to eat healthfully and ethically.
In most of these stories, the missing player has been the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Whether hapless bystander or hostage to legislation cooked to the tastes of lobbyists, the FDA seems to have little practical influence, regulatory or moral.
Nevertheless, the FDA does believe it’s playing a critical role. Here’s what its Web site has to say about its labeling rules, its successes, and the parade of food technology that it happily watches march by:
“Today, consumers demand and enjoy a food supply that is flavorful, nutritious, safe, convenient, colorful and affordable. Food additives and advances in technology help make that possible . . . Still, some consumers have concerns about additives because they may see the long, unfamiliar names and think of them as complex chemical compounds. In fact, every food we eat — whether a just-picked strawberry or a homemade cookie — is made up of chemical compounds that determine flavor, color, texture and nutrient value. All food additives are carefully regulated by federal authorities and various international organizations to ensure that foods are safe to eat and are accurately labeled.”
Sounds pretty reassuring. Let’s hear more: “Without color additives, colas wouldn’t be brown, margarine wouldn’t be yellow and mint ice cream wouldn’t be green. Color additives are now recognized as an important part of practically all processed foods we eat.”
OK, let’s agree that life without chemically colored mint might be oppressive. At least the FDA has a handle on all of these added substances, right?
“Because of inherent limitations of science, FDA can never be absolutely certain of the absence of any risk from the use of any substance. Therefore, FDA must determine — based on the best science available — if there is a reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers when an additive is used as proposed.”
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