After reading the excerpt from Chapter Five of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, do you think it should be required by the FDA that food flavoring and food coloring companies put all ingredients used in their flavoring and coloring agents on food labels?
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Chapter Five of Eric Schlosser’s examination of the food processing and service industries, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, is titled “Why the Fries Taste Good.” Within that chapter is a section titled “Food Product Design.” If the goal of Schlosser’s discussion of the food additive industry is to spur public support for food labeling requirements imposed on industry by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to henceforth include the ingredients used in flavoring, then this section makes his case convincingly. In so doing, he also points out the financial implications of any measures that could potentially sour the public on additional insights into what they routinely consume. And Schlosser does emphasize the vast role the food processing industry maintains in the United States:
“About 90 percent of the money that Americans spend on food is used to buy processed food. But the canning, freezing, and dehydrating techniques used to process food destroy most of its flavor. Since the end of World War II, a vast industry has arisen in the United States to make processed food palatable. Without this flavor industry, today’s fast food industry could not exist.”
There are billions of dollars at stake in any discussion of further regulating the food processing industry. That by itself makes Schlosser’s point difficult to translate into action. To the extent that food labeling is intended to inform the public regarding the ingredients it is consuming and, hopefully, facilitate greater awareness of the ramifications for the consumer’s health of that consumption, then expanding food labeling to include flavoring and coloring ingredients makes sense. The FDA food labeling requirements, however, currently include a loophole. As Schlosser points out, the FDA
"does not require flavor companies to disclose the ingredients of their additives, so long as all the chemicals are considered by the agency to be GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe). This lack of public disclosure enables the companies to maintain the secrecy of their formulas.”
Schlosser’s description of the food processing industry makes clear that the distinctions between various products are often minimal, and frequently evolve solely as a product of the skills of scientists in laboratories developing chemical compounds that give most processed foods their aroma and taste, the two sense of which are closely-related. Even labeling designed to convince wary consumers that such chemical were not a part of the manufacturing process are exceedingly misleading. As Schlosser notes, the distinctions between “natural” and “artificial” flavoring is often a matter of very indistinct processes:
”Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods. Amyl acetate, for example, provides the dominant note of banana flavor. When you distill it from bananas with a solvent, amyl acetate is a natural flavor. When you produce it by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol, adding sulfuric acid as a catalyst, amyl acetate is an artificial flavor.”
The section on “Food Product Design” includes a lengthy list of the chemicals that are used in flavoring and other additives designed to lure the consumer to purchase certain products. These are the missing ingredients in food labeling, and the author’s matter-of-fact discussion of the processes in which these chemicals are used warrants serious review by the FDA.
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