Red Yogurt Bugs: Dannon Slammed For Using Insect-Based Food Coloring In Yogurt Products [REPORT]

By Philip Ross on July 26, 2013 2:34 PM EDT

red yogurt bugs
Red yogurt bugs are used in Dannon yogurt to give the food its bright red color. (Photo: Flickr/theimpulsivebuy)

Red yogurt bugs have become a major headache for Dannon yogurt executives after the company came under fire for using an insect-based food coloring in its yogurt products. Cinema Blend reports that Dannon yogurt uses crushed up cochineal bugs, not fruit, to give its yogurt its red and pink hues. The red yogurt bugs, while innocuous to most people, can cause a serious allergic reaction in a small percentage of the population.

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The news of the red yogurt bugs was broken by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit nutrition watchdog based in Washington, D.C.

"The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants global yogurt giant Dannon to put berries over bugs," the organization said in a press release. "Dannon uses carmine-a dye extracted from the dried, pulverized bodies of cochineal insects-to give several varieties of fruit-flavored yogurt their pink color."

Dannon stuck by its product, and defended its use of red bug dye in its yogurt products.

"Any of our products that contain carmine clearly list it as an ingredient," Dannon's senior director of public relations, Michael J. Neuwirth, told the Huffington Post. "Anyone who wishes to avoid it can."

The food coloring used in yogurt and other products is actually called carmine. According to the Boston Globe, Starbucks also received backlash from vegetarian groupsafter it was found that the coffee and pastry mogul used carmine in some of its fruit smoothies. The company decided to remove the additive.

Carmine is a crimson or red pigment used to color artificial flowers, paints, inks, cosmetics and food products like yogurts and juices. The dye is extracted from cochineal insects and is produced mainly in Peru and the Canary Islands.

Live Science reports that the color extract is made by drying out the bugs, which live on prickly pear cacti, and then crushing them into a powder. This is then submerged in an acidic alcohol solution to produce carminic acid. The product is called carmine or cochineal extract.  

According to Live Science, it takes about 70,000 insects to make one pound of dye. It's been a popular food product and color agent since the time of the Aztecs over 500 years ago. In the U.S., carmine was labeled in food products as a "natural color," but in 2009, the Food and Drug Administration required food producers to explicitly identify food containing cochineal extract as having carmine in it.

"I have nothing against people who eat insects, but when I buy strawberry yogurt I'm expecting yogurt and strawberries, and not red dye made from bugs," Center for Science in the Public Interest executive director Michael F. Jacobson said. "Given the fact that it causes allergic reactions in some people, and that it's easy to use safer, plant-based colors, why would Dannon use it at all? Why risk offending vegetarians and grossing out your other customers?"

Those who are allergic to carmine can go into anaphylactic shock. But Dannon's senior director told Huffington Post that people with allergies are accustomed to reading food labels in the first place.

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