Warning: This Post Contains Bugs

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8 Responses

  1. PrometheeFeu says:

    I don’t think the bacteria example is a good application of the theory you are describing. We all understand (or at least have ample opportunity to know) that there are bacteria everywhere. We would not be “surprised” to the point of changing our behavior. We would be disgusted by bringing to the fore of our mind a fact we would rather not think about too much. So a warning would not be appropriate for bacteria.

    I suppose I am implicitly adding another factor to the test: The information is not widely known/available. Though I suppose if the information is already widely known/available, you can no longer say that consumers would have acted differently had they known.

    So would grasshopper abdomens require a label? Yes at first. When we purchase food, we don’t expect grasshopper abdomens in it and might change our decision based upon knowledge of that fact. However, if grasshopper abdomens became a common feature of food items, that labeling requirement would disappear over time as it would become an expected ingredient same as sugar, salt, beef or soy.

  2. Shag from Brookline says:

    How should vegans react to this?

  3. PrometheeFeu says:

    @Shag from Brookline:

    Well, products are assumed to not be vegan by default. So they had better look for products that advertise themselves as vegan.

  4. Ryan Calo says:


    Thanks for your note. Maybe that’s the answer: bugs get time-limited warnings.

    @Shag from Brookline:

    Vegans have a special diet that, I would imagine, leads them to have to look more closely at ingredients. Perhaps they would be the ones to catch our food-maker’s euphemism for grasshopper abdomen.

  5. Nathan Cortez says:

    There’s a whole layer of FDA regulation that applies here.

    FDA sets “defect action levels” that define precisely how many bugs and other nasty ingredients manufacturers can have in food before the agency considers it to be adulterated. These action levels aren’t legally binding, but it’s interesting that the action levels don’t correspond to unsafe levels of rodent hairs, or excreta, or other appetizing things. The theory is that some amounts of these substances is unavoidable in the manufacturing process, but higher amounts would probably offend consumers.

    More relevant to your hypo, the FDA could bring a misbranding action if a company failed to reveal that its product contained something shockingly gross, because the statute allows FDA to go after omissions of material information.

    As a final note, FDA regs on these questions *might* preempt state consumer claims.

  6. Lemming of the BDA says:

    I’m surprised that this post didn’t use dead frogs or lark’s vomit as examples.

  7. Ryan Calo says:

    @Nathan – Thanks! That is fascinating. I wonder why they have not pursued anyone over carmine.

    @Lemming – Sorry to disappoint…

  8. Jim Maloney says:

    Building upon footnote 1 (“Consumers may also want to know…”) and Ryan Calo’s input about vegans, consumers may also want to know not just about potential physical harm to themselves from certain ingredients, but also about ingredients that they may wish to avoid because of their belief systems. Kashrut is one example. Interestingly, while most invertebrates are trayf, certain grasshoppers and locusts are actually kosher (which, in turn, is “food” for an interesting side discussion about rationales underlying rulemaking. If locusts eat all your crops, you ought not be prohibited from eating the locusts!)

    And then there’s the story of the copepods in the drinking water…