It is becoming more and more common for foods to contain chemicals, additives and preservatives that are not listed on the ingredient list. The term “industry standard” is the device that offers a hiding place and makes this possible. When manufacturers use an “industry standard” ingredient in their product, they do not have to list it on the ingredient list.
These hidden ingredients lurk in many different foods. For those of us with sensitivities, or those who care about the food they eat, this poses a real problem because there is no way of knowing what is in the food. Undisclosed ingredients likely are to blame for causing health issues in countless people.
“BEEF” AND “NATURAL FLAVORS”
Fast-food chains use industry standard fillers and additives “to enhance the flavor, texture and taste” of beef. A decade ago, consumers filed a class-action lawsuit against Taco Bell, suing the company to change its “seasoned beef” labeling to “taco meat filling” because tests showed that the filling’s content was less than 35 percent real beef.
As per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “taco meat filling” must contain at least 40 percent meat to be labeled as meat. Greg Creed, Taco Bell’s president and “chief concept officer” at the time of the lawsuit, released a statement claiming that the company’s seasoned beef recipe in fact contained “88% quality USDA-inspected beef.”
After receiving a great deal of critical press, the lawsuit was dropped, and Taco Bell spent millions of dollars in advertising trying to resuscitate its image. One of the company’s comeback tactics was to divulge the ingredients in its “seasoned beef” mixture. This disclosure proved that in addition to beef, the mixture included filler ingredients such as oats; various sugars (including cellulose, maltodextrin and dextrose); soy lecithin; citric acid; natural flavors—a label that in its own right can hide thousands of additives—including monosodium glutamate (MSG); another hidden MSG-type ingredient called torula yeast13 (grown by feeding yeast on wood alcohols); cocoa (to add color); disodium inosinate and guanylate; lactic acid (a pH regulator and preservative); modified cornstarch (a thickener that may use not just corn but wheat, potato, rice or tapioca); salt; and sodium phosphates (leavening agent salts).
The company’s strategy backfired. Describing Taco Bell’s “many, many weird artificial ingredients,” CBS reported that “the chain’s marketing staff hasn’t bothered to notice that its incomprehensibly technical ingredient list makes Taco Bell’s menu look like one big food science experiment.
Increasingly, discerning consumers know that the long list of ingredients is why fast-food beef doesn’t taste like grass-fed beef, why it doesn’t contain the nutrient content of grass-fed beef and why one will get hungry faster after eating this “beef.”
The term “natural flavors” is understood most easily by looking at how the American biotech company Senomyx (acquired by the privately owned Swiss company Firmenich in 2018) defines it—as an umbrella term that encompasses over eight hundred thousand artificial and natural ingredients. Senomyx uses “proprietary taste science technologies to dis cover, develop, and commercialize novel flavor ingredients” and analyzes “millions of potential flavor ingredients annually.” Senomyx proudly declares, “We’re helping companies clean up their labels.”
WHEN IS A TOMATO NOT A TOMATO?
The deeper you look at food, the more you find it may not be pure food. Examples include tomato sauces and tomato products that are not really just tomato.
Almost a third (31 percent) of the worldwide tomato supply comes from China, although ironically, tomatoes feature “sparsely” in the nation’s diet. As of 2017, China ranked first in worldwide tomato production, shipping to over one hundred thirty countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Russia. From there, China’s tomato products are used by different brand names including Heinz, Unilever, McCormick and Nestle, which in turn ship to the United States, where these products dominate store shelves.
The documentary The Empire of Red Gold explains China’s role in the global tomato industry in detail. China pays workers for what they pick at a rate of 0.01 Euro per kilo, equaling half a penny for picking and packing a kilo (2.2 pounds) of tomatoes. The work involves pulling the tomato plant out of the ground, removing the tomatoes by shaking the plant, picking them up from the ground and putting them in a large sack. The tomatoes are genetically modified to be extremely durable, which means they do not bruise easily and can fall to the ground unharmed. If you throw one of these tomatoes to the ground, it does not burst but instead bounces. This is a benefit to the low-income workers, who are often women who have babies strapped to their backs or have their small children walking in the fields helping with the work. If the tomatoes are accidentally stepped on by these small children, it does not harm the tomatoes.
The Empire of Red Gold shows how suppliers of tomato manufacturing equipment in Parma, Italy set up production in China many years ago. Italians taught the Chinese how to run the Italian-designed equipment and produce the tomato product. The system was set up as a trade. Silvestro Pieracci, a former trader at the Gandolfi Group, recounts in the film that the deal was, “I give you the machines for production, you carry out your own production, and when you have finished, you give me the products to sell and recover the money for the machines that I have given you.”
From that point, the tomato product is shipped in barrels, in shipping containers, overseas to Salerno, Italy. There, the Chinese concentrate is reconditioned by the Italians, who dilute it with water and add salt. Slate reported in 2007 that Italian consumers discovered, “[m]uch to their horror. . . that some of the paste on their shelves had come from China, where, as it was pointed out, there were lax controls on sanitation, pesticides, and heavy-metal contamination.”
Ordinarily, it takes just under thirteen and a half pounds of tomatoes to cook down to two pounds of tomato paste. Ma Zhenyong is the managing director of Jintudi, one of the biggest Chinese exporters of tomato products. In the documentary, he was giving the producer of the film a tour of the facility when the producer saw a white substance going into the tomato sauce in large quantities. When asked by a translator to identify the substance, the managing director said, “I cannot answer that. This is our recipe. I cannot talk about it. These additives are legitimate. We filed our recipe at the Chinese Goods Inspection and Examination Office. We only add what is filed there.”
The white powder contained soybean powder, used as a thickener, as well as other ingredients. However, this substance does not appear on the label. Zhenyong said privately to the translator, “With regards to our production, 80% of the product is the raw material, tomato. In the remaining 20%, there is soybean (thickener), starch (thickener), maltose (sugar). The tomato paste represents 80%. And then, you know, the recipes are not fixed.” When the translator told the facility manager that he was only conveying the documentary producer’s question and that Zhenyong did not have to talk about it, Zhenyong stated privately to the translator, “The best thing is not to talk about the substances that are added.”
The film’s producer has stated: “According to my information, some boxes of Chinese concentrate contain up to 55% additives. It’s a method of lowering manufacturing costs since these are cheaper than tomatoes. The reason they can cut their products with soy is because of an agreement with their distributors. The entire production and distribution chain is complicit in this fraud. Only the consumer is fooled.”
Article adapted from Weston Price.