Sugar-free chocolate. Decaf Coffee. Low-fat (anything edible). For decades the food industry has been telling us that we eat too much and exercise too little. The Food and Drug Administration has been our Little Big Brother, looking out for a populace that should know better, but does naughty things anyway.
So much for small government, so much for our ownership society.
Now, the plot thickens. Kraft foods, Coca-cola, Nestle, and Campbell’s are working with biotech to engineer foods to fool us into thinking we’re eating more of the naughty stuff we crave than we really are. By blocking taste receptors they can “enhance or replicate the taste of sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate, or MSG, in foods”.
By adding one of Senomyx’s flavorings to their products, manufacturers can, for instance, reduce the sugar in a cookie or salt in a can of soup by one-third to one-half while retaining the same sweetness or saltiness.
Unlike artificial sweeteners, Senomyx’s chemical compounds will not be listed separately on ingredient labels. Instead, they will be lumped into a broad category - “artificial flavors” - already found on most packaged food labels.
“We’re helping companies clean up their labels,” said Senomyx’s chief executive, Kent Snyder.
I like that. That’s tantamount to saying: “We’re not going to tell you what you’re eating. It’s supposed to be healthier, and that’s why were doing it”.
While food safety experts applaud efforts to reduce salt, MSG and sugar, they expressed concerns about the new chemicals, saying that more testing needed to be done before these were sold in food.
But Senomyx maintains that its new products are safe because they will be used in tiny quantities.
To put more words in the mouths of the experts: “We won’t be labeling the food with a chemical notation or catchy “brand name,” so don’t expect to get all “phenylketonuric” on us! Thanks to the speed of new technology, Senomyx races past the archaic laws for ingestibles
Since Senomyx’s flavor compounds will be used in small proportions (less than one part per million), the company is able to bypass the lengthy F.D.A. approval process required to get food additives on the market. Getting the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association status of generally recognized as safe, or GRAS, took Senomyx less than 18 months, including a 3-month safety study using rats. In contrast, the maker of the artificial sweetener sucralose spent 11 years winning F.D.A. approval and is required to list the ingredient on food labels.