Now Colored with Bug Juice

There are bugs in your yogurt, candy, fruit juice, and strawberry-scented shampoo. Well, to be more exact, bug juice used as brilliant orange or red dye. The tiny crushed bodies of the Coccus cacti beetle yield what’s known as cochineal extract, or, in its purified form, carmine, a red color that’s been used since the 16th century to tint products and makeup red, pink, orange, and purple.

It’s wonderful stuff—hey, I like red candy as much as the next person—but for a small percentage of the population it causes serious allergic reactions. The Center for Science in the Public Interest first began bugging the FDA about labeling products that use cochineal extract/carmine in 1998, but a weak response took until January 2009 to arrive: Beginning in 2011, companies that use the beetle dye must disclose that fact on their labels.

The FDA’s new rule says only that makers have to declare “cochineal extract” or “carmine,” a far cry from CSPI’s recommendation that the ingredients lists state “Artificial color (carmine/cochineal extract (insect-based)).”