Kraft changed its recipe for macaroni and cheese to remove the artificial preservatives and dyes -- without telling anyone. And... no one noticed the switch (and over 50 million boxes were sold). Kraft announced the "new and improved" recipe, hailing it as a success. However, doesn't that just mean no one reads ingredient labels (or that the labels are so vague/inaccurate that the ingredients can change without anyone knowing)? Essentially, if no one can taste the difference, Kraft just proved you can sell any set of ingredients without telling anyone. Soylent Green may contain some natural and/or artificial flavoring? [url]
The words "all natural" might not mean what you think it means when it's on a food label. Likewise, just because an ingredient list contains the name of a chemical you've never heard of -- doesn't necessarily mean that "chemical" is bad for you. Potassium benzoate is a common preservative, but it's no longer found in many beverages because it can react with ascorbic acid to create trace amounts of benzene. Food additives may react with other ingredients in some undesirable ways, but should we get rid of all of them? It's nice to be able to increase the shelf life of a Twinkie -- though maybe we should just eat fewer Twinkies to begin with.
The sense of taste is surprisingly complex. It's related to the sense of smell, but various foods also have combinations of textures and consistencies that make taste tests an interesting (and difficult to fully understand) field of study. There are "perfect Pepsi's" -- not just a single "good" taste that everyone can agree upon. Here are just some other tidbits on tasting.
There's still a lot people don't know about biology, and the way biological molecules can be transmitted. Eating food is an unavoidable way of consuming a whole range of biological compounds, and scientists are learning more and more about how foods can affect health. Here are just a few links on some interesting food science topics.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are invading the food chain. Some folks say that the trend to grow more and more GMO food is almost a requirement to keep up with the world's demand for food. Others disagree, arguing that there are alternatives to GMOs that could meet demands without potentially endangering our fragile ecosystem. Here are just a few examples of the seemingly unstoppable development of GMOs for food.
Technology can certainly make for some interesting clashes with regulatory regimes. Social networking, for example, starts to bring up all sorts of questions about the fine line between certain regulated areas of advertising, and basic free speech communication issues. Eric Goldman points us to the news that the FDA is warning pharma giant Novartis (pdf) over its use of a "Facebook Share" widget on its site promoting the drug Tasigna (a leukemia drug).
The specific complaint is that the "share" feature includes promotional material about Tasigna, but not all of the associated risks (and, as with so many drugs, there's quite a list of risks). Because of the limited amount of space often used in "sharing" content, the FDA feels that some of the sharing options are misleading, not correctly noting that the drug is only approved for some users.
The shared content is misleading because it
makes representations about the efficacy of Tasigna but fails to communicate any risk
information associated with the use of this drug. In addition, the shared content inadequately
communicates Tasigna’s FDA-approved indication and implies superiority over other
products. Thus, the shared content for Tasigna misbrands the drug in violation of the Federal
Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) and FDA implementing regulations.
The FDA even picks on the specific word choices in some of the sharing features, such as calling the drug a "next-generation" drug, which apparently implies it's better than other drugs in the space when that might not be the case. Advertising and marketing for pharmaceuticals has always been a contentious area, and I believe that many countries ban it, while the US allows it. But with the internet and social networking, the line between advertising and communication can start to blur. Yes, it may be problematic if Novartis is suggesting people "share" misleading or incomplete info about the drug, but what if people just start sharing that info on their own? Where do you draw the line?