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Starbucks should’ve let customers know about bug ingredients

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012

Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 10:04

A dried cochineal insect found in Mexico and South America is crushed to make a red dye that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

What is this dye used for, you ask? To color many of the foods and beverages we consume on a daily basis, such as jams, preserves, meat and alcoholic drinks.

One of these many items is a member of the Starbucks drink family — the Strawberry Frappuccino. The pink, rosy color of these drinks comes from the cochinal bugs, which the company recently began using as an alternative to artificial dyes.

The change has caused a great deal of controversy, and Stephen Colbert even took the drink to task Tuesday on “The Colbert Report,” calling it “a delicious blend of strawberries, milk and ice, with a swirl of whipped cream and absolutely no ground-up bugs in it — or so I thought.”

The idea of a bug in a coffee drink is very unsettling even if it is approved, and is of great concern to vegan consumers. There are very few places that cater to vegans, and Starbucks was generally known to be one of them.

“This was known as a drink that vegans can safely consume,” Daelyn Fortney, a co-founder of thisdishisvegetarian.com, said to USA Today.

The World Health Organization has also found the dye to cause asthma and allergic reactions in certain individuals. The whole thought of this is enough to make one nauseous.

Starbucks switched to the bug dye in an attempt to stop using artificial dyes, according to CBS News. This would be much appreciated by vegans if the all-natural method didn’t include bugs. Since many consumers do not relish the thought of eating bugs, switching the ingredients in the product is misleading.

Starbucks also uses the dye in their strawberry smoothies, as well as the food items birthday cake pop, mini donut with pink icing and red velvet whoopie Pie, according to a blog post by the company. If the majority of consumers are aware of this, Starbucks sales could begin to drop.

Starbucks initially defended the use of the insects, but Starbucks CEO Cliff Burrows has said the company is considering changing the dye to benefit their customers’ interests. This seems like the most reasonable direction to take, especially to cater to vegan and vegetarian customers.

Starbucks did not make an effort to hide the ingredient, but it never explicitly advertised the ingredient or offered a warning to those with dietary restrictions. Vegans and vegetarians should rightfully speak out against the change.

Other than a distaste for insects in one’s drink, the incident shows consumers’ distaste for food companies including questionable ingredients like “pink slime” and “red bugs” without explicitly letting them know.

Amy McDonough is a senior majoring in psychology and sociology.

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