Food colors carmine and cochineal are derived from the cases of the cochineal beetle, a tiny insect which lives on cactus plants, particularly the prickly pear cactus, in Central and South America. Carmine and cochineal are used in dozens of reddish-colored foods and beverages, including fruit drinks, ice creams, yogurts, and candies. If you eat foods with cochineal or carmine, beware: there can be significant allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis.
It takes a lot of beetles to produce enough colour … about 150,000 of them are needed to make 1 kilogram of carmine dye. Carminic acid, which is the active ingredient in the dye, is very safe, and is commonly used to colour candy, ice cream, lipstick, yogurt, and eye shadow.
In 1998 the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the FDA to require that carmine and cochineal extract be specifically listed on product labels, and not just as “color additives.
Well in 2011 it will FINALLY become required of food and cosmetic manufacturers that they label products containing carmine and cochineal. But it won’t require them to say it comes from dried beetles!
According to the FDA, the source of incredibly sound science as we all know: carmine and cochineal extract are not “major” food allergens, and that carmine and cochineal extract are safe when used in accordance with regulations for color additives.
Just stay away from bright red manufactured foods – and bright orange, yellow, green and blue manufactured foods while you are it.
In fact, just stay away from manufactured food. Period!
SOURCE: University of Utah, news release, Jan. 6, 2009