Starbucks Once-Vegan Strawberries & Creme Frappucino Now Contains Crushed Bugs

A Starbucks’ vegan drink apparently isn’t so vegan after-all. Its Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino, touted as being vegan, contains crushed bugs.

Thisdishisvegetarian.com reported that the soy-containing drink is now made with “cochineal extract,” a dye created from crushed insects, said CBS Local.

“My guess would be that the recipe changed about three or four weeks ago, when our strawberry sauce got new packaging,” a Starbucks’s barista told thisdishisvegeterarian.com. “I was hoping you guys could help get the word out there so that no vegans end up drinking this formerly vegan frappuccino by mistake!” the barista added, according to CBS Local.

Cochineal extract is derived from dried cochineal bugs and has been a popularly used color dye for thousands of years, explained CBS Local, noting that cochineal extract is also known as “carmine” or “crimson lake.”

According to the thisdishisvegeterarian.com web site, a Starbucks spokesperson replied to the site on March 16. Starbucks has not immediately replied to CBS, it said. According to thisdishisvegetarian.com Starbucks wrote: “At Starbucks, we strive to carry products that meet a variety of dietary lifestyles and needs. We also have the goal to minimize artificial ingredients in our products. While the strawberry base isn’t a vegan product, it helps us move away from artificial dyes.”

Another web site, Change.org has organized a petition urging Starbucks to use alternative natural food colorings such as red beets, purple sweet potatoes, and paprika, said CBS. Meanwhile, news of the insect dye has increased awareness of those many foods that have long contained cochineal extract.

Although described as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), food and cosmetic labels must indicate which products contain cochineal extract, which is commonly found in “wines, yogurts, candies, fruit drinks, ice creams, ketchup, lipsticks, eye shadow, and nail polish” to name a few, said CBS.

In 1998, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the FDA to have product labeling indicate presence of the dye following a study which indicated that cochineal extract caused an allergic reaction in one patient, said CBS. In 2009, the CSPI said it had received many complaints since it issued the petition. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail wrote that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), ingesting the extract has been tied to asthma in some.

In 2009 we wrote that color additives made from insects would have to be listed on food and cosmetics labels by 2011. At that time, they were simply listed as “artificial color.” As we explained, the description change followed reports of allergic reactions and a decade-old CSPI petition. It has long been known that while the labeling would be revised, new labeling would not indicate that bugs are involved in affected products’ manufacture. Instead, products simply list carmine and cochineal extract. The new rule became effective January 5, 2011.

According to thisdishisvegetarian, Starbucks’ Strawberry Smoothies are also not vegan and utilize the same cochineal extract-containing strawberry sauce. Of note, said the web site, according to the animal rights protection group, PETA, it could take up to 70,000 cochineal insects and their eggs—all female—to produce one pound of red dye.

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