March 28, 2012 at 6:23 PM ET
Starbucks has landed in hot water with some vegetarians over a decision to use a food coloring made from crushed bugs in products including its Strawberries and Creme Frappuccinos and red velvet whoopie pies.
The coffee giant recently started using cochineal extract, which is made from crushed insects, as a food dye in products that are pink or red in color.
Spokesman Jim Olson told msnbc.com the company switched to the extract in response to customers who wanted Starbucks to use more natural ingredients whenever possible.
“This is an alternative to other synthetic red dyes that are out there,” Olson said, adding that the product is commonly used in juices, yogurts and other products.
The ingredient change caught the attention of a vegan barista, who sent a copy of the ingredient list to a website called This Dish is Veg.
Change.org, an advocacy social network, then launched a petition aiming to stop the company from using the product. About 800 people had signed it as of Wednesday afternoon.
In 2009 the Food and Drug Administration began requiring companies to tell customers when they are using cochineal extract in foods, citing the potential for allergic reactions. The move followed a push by the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Olson said the company does provide nutritional information about its products on its website, and people can always e-mail or call if they have detailed questions.
“We certainly respect and understand the interest this is getting, but it is a very common ingredient in foods and juices and beverages,” Olson said.
He added that the company has no plans to move to a different ingredient at this time.
Tip of the hat to The Seattle Times, which earlier reported this story.
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