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Food and Drug Abdication

February 10, 2014

Bread is causing a big brouhaha these days. If you read the FLB regularly this shouldn’t be a shock. Real bread has always been hard to find and even the stuff that poses for good, healthful, or freshly baked bread in the supermarkets is filled with dreck.

Who finds it surprising that there is nasty stuff lurking in rolls sold by fast food joints?

One of the nasty things with a long name that falls under the category of “dough conditioners” is azodicarbonamide. And as Vani Hari (aka The Food Babe) has recently reminded us, it’s the same ingredient that’s used in yoga mats and rubber soles. Just yesterday, Chuck Schumer has joined the chorus of voices opposed the use of this ingredient in our food supply.

Do I want azodicarbonamide in my bread? No. Most certainly, I do not. But I don’t want DATEM in it either. DATEM of course is the much more user friendly acronym than the much scarier sounding chemical, “diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides.” How about bromide or sodium stearoyl lactylate? No and no.

But there is a much bigger problem going on here. Really that should say problems.

1) This current wave of consumer advocacy is trying to fix a symptom and not a cause

God bless bloggers like Miss Hari for putting herself out there and doggedly going after specific ingredients from specific manufacturers. It’s a ton of work for very little reward, and I can only hope that she’s working off a mantra that the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.

She got Kraft to stop using yellow #5 in a few of their macaroni and cheese products, most notably the ones focused on children’s characters. And this latest campaign focused on Subway.

But one problem is our federal regulators. While other first world governments find these ingredients to be unfit for their citizens, our FDA is perfectly fine with them.

2) Nobody is stopping to ask why are these ingredients used in the first place

File this under the high cost of cheap food. You don’t need dough conditioners, emulsifiers, or preservatives to make delicious tender rolls. You need them if you want to make rolls as quickly and inexpensively as humanly mechanically possible.

There has got to be a better way. And there is. To me, the most damning evidence against Kraft and Subway in the Food Babe’s recent petitions has been the manufacturers’ ability to manufacture a perfectly acceptable version of their products for European markets.

The thing that galls me most is the double standard of it all, and companies willingness to keep peddling dreck to the U.S. that it can’t sell to the rest of the world. It doesn’t speak well to the notion of American Exceptionalism that we’re willing to swallow this swill.

3. Making this about food safety or chemicals in our food is dumb and dangerous

Food isn’t safe. Medicine isn’t safe. Life is full of thousands of risks. Some of them are small, but others are quite large. The most dangerous thing you will likely do today is get into a car. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s a really freaking dangerous thing to do, and people don’t think twice about it.

When issues like azodicarbonamide get wrapped in the language of food safety, we start going down a very dangerous path. The logical outcome of that would be irradiating our food, prohibiting the sale of aged raw milk cheese, and making it against the law to sell a rare hamburger. Don’t forget, both fried foods and foods that are cooked on the grill can cause cancer as well.

I want to be able to buy a pie with a crust that’s made from half butter and half Crisco at a bakery. I want to be able to buy the old partially hydrogenated Crisco just for that purpose. It’s totally not safe. But it’s just one pie. Still, the food safety police won’t let me have it.

And honestly, I don’t think Subway is putting their consumers at risk with their current bread formulation. I wouldn’t eat it because it’s vile, not because it has a dough conditioner.

The NBC story playing on the fears of this ingredients includes a quote from the WHO:

Case reports and epidemiological studies in humans have produced abundant evidence that azodicarbonamide can induce asthma, other respiratory symptoms, and skin sensitization in exposed workers. Adverse effects on other systems have not been studied.

The key phrase there is “in exposed workers.” This isn’t about its effects on eaters. It’s about those involved in the manufacture of the chemical. When a tanker truck of the stuff spills, that’s trouble too.

It’s not hard to make bogus claims about chemicals sound scary. Some are trying to demonstrate this in the comments section of Miss Hari’s blog post. One commenter wrote:

Don’t even get me started on Linoleic Acid. They use that stuff to make paint varnish! But that evil “mother” nature puts it in apples. We should start a petition to get it out of our fruits!

So what exactly is the bigger problem then?

Here’s the deal. We don’t trust the government. We don’t trust big business, be it big food or big pharma. And they’ve given us lots of reasons not to trust them. There is no one easy solution. It’s hard to even get people in America to care that they’re being fed the crap that people in other countries refuse to eat.

But people are waking up to this, slowly but surely. And as much as I may not approve of Miss Hari’s methods or her solutions, her campaigns are shining a light on this underlying problem. Regardless if the companies change their formulations to accommodate her demands, consumers are learning to avoid foods that are loaded with non-food ingredients.

When it starts to hit big business in the pocket book, we’ll see some positive change.

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