The FDA is making moves towards listing a red coloring derived from the ground bodies of female cochineal beetles on the basis that it is a potential safety hazard to a handful of individuals.
Used in a spectrum of cosmetics ranging from lipstick to blusher, the move comes as pressure mounts from watchdogs and consumers to label the ingredient more clearly.
Currently the FDA only require that the ingredient is labeled as a 'color added' or 'artifical color', but fears over allergic reactions as well as consumer demands to be better informed if the products they buy are animal-derived are prompting the move towards change.
Carmine extract has been used for thousands of years to provide coloring in a host of products, including foods. But, according to the consumer pressure, current labeling legislation means very few people can readily identify the ingredient.
As well as carmine, Cochineal Beetles are also used to produce Cochineal extract, another red dye derivative that is only used in food and pharmaceutical products.
Currently the Cochineal beetle is farmed in Peru and the Canary islands. The beetle bodies are first dried out before being crushed to obtain the coloring extract. As well as cosmetic products, they are also found in foods with red or pinky coloring, including yogurt, ice cream and the alcoholic drinks.
The FDA says that its main concern over the ingredient is for health and safety reasons. Allergy sufferers unwittingly using the ingredient in cosmetic products have been known to come out in rashes, hives and even succumb to anaphylaxis attacks.
The watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has been lobbying the FDA to improve the labeling of products containing Cochineal extract since 1998, and has been one of the driving force behind the FDA's latest action.
CSPI says that, together with issues concerning the health risks associated with the extracts, it is also concerned that individuals who may have moral objections to purchasing insect-derived products also need to be better informed.
More specifically the concern is that vegan, vegetarian or individuals seeking animal-free products because of religious reasons should have access to clearer information about the ingredient on the product labeling to enable a more informed choice.
In an effort to meet these requirements, the FDA has published an online proposal that would require manufacturers to clearly label any products containing either extract. The public and interested parties have been given until May 1 to reply to the FDA over the proposed rulling.
But CSPI want the FDA to go one step beyond simply referring to the colorings by their real names and actually specify the coloring's origins.
"Why not use a word that people can understand?" said CSPI director Michael Jacobson. "Sending people scurrying to the dictionary or to Google to figure out what 'carmine' or 'cochineal' means is just plain sneaky. Call these coloring what they are - insect-based."