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Starbucks use of insect dye causes discontent

By Avani Kapur
On April 20, 2012

The use of a red dye made from crushed insects in the formerly vegan friendly Starbucks Strawberries and Crème Frappucino and Strawberry Smoothie has been the cause of recent discontent among Starbucks patrons.

"I only drink espresso anyway, but if I did drink Frappucinos I definitely wouldn't go for the strawberry one," said Joey Barton, senior and International Business major.

According to the PETA website, cochineal extract is produced by crushing dried female cochineal bugs. Their website also says that it takes 70,000 of these bugs to produce one pound of red dye. Cochineal extract, used to color food, drinks and cosmetics, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but is known to cause allergies and asthma in a number of people. 

Although the issue was first raised in the vegan and vegetarian community, many students are not happy about the presence of cochineal extract in Starbucks products.

Sophomore and Biology major Jalak Patel, a vegetarian, said that she would not consume these products knowing about the dye, but she added that many foods and beverages contain traces of bugs.

On March 14, posted a letter and photograph sent to the vegan/vegetarian blog by a concerned barista.  The letter told the website that her location had received new strawberry sauce about three to four weeks prior and was no longer vegan as it contained cochineal extract.

A petition on, created by a woman in South Carolina asks Starbucks to use all-natural alternatives such as red beets, black carrots, purple sweet potato and paprika. As of April 5, the petition contained over 5,000 signatures.

In 2009, the FDA began requiring products using the dye to include the name of the extract on labels instead of broad labels such as "natural coloring" and "color added;" however, the regulation does not require labels to specify that the dye is made from insects.

Although the strawberry sauce container includes "cochineal extract" on its label, the Starbucks menu and website does not contain an ingredient list.

Junior Vishal Patel, Accounting major, said that if he had a clear image of the process used to create the dye, he would not drink the Frappucinos, but otherwise, his decision might not be affected knowing that cochineal extract is being used.

Starbucks began using the extract in an effort to cut down on the use of artificial ingredients.  In a statement released on March 29 on the Starbucks Ideas in Action blog, the president of Starbucks U.S. wrote, "While it is a safe product that poses no health risk, we are reviewing alternative natural ingredients."

The statement went on to say that the strawberry base containing the extract is used not only in the Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino and Strawberry Smoothies, but also in three food products: Birthday Cake Pop, Mini Donut with pink icing and Red Velvet Whoopie Pie.  

"In the past we've gotten notice to discontinue a product, but we didn't get any notice here," said Tim Zsign, supervisor of the Starbucks on campus.

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