Letting pepsi police itself isn’t very sweet


The government didn’t get a chance to see whether a new calorie-cutting additive in Mug Root Beer is safe.

If you drink Mug Root Beer or the apple-flavored Manzanita Sol soda, you might unwittingly become one of the first people to try a brand new artificial sweetener. The new product is called Sweetmyx 617, and PepsiCo is blending it with high fructose corn syrup to reduce the calories in these sugary drinks.

But you won’t find that out by reading the label. This new chemical concoction won’t be listed.

As usual, the label will say these soft drinks contain “artificial ingredients,” which is all it has to say to comply with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. Apparently, the government sees no need to alert you that by drinking these sodas you’ll be consuming a brand new ingredient.

Well surely, you must be thinking, this new additive has been tested for safety. Isn’t that required before Pepsi and other manufacturers put it in their sodas?

Oh yes it has been tested…sort of.

A panel of experts from the artificial flavor industry took a look and declared it safe. Voila!

As food writer Marion Nestle explains, this happens all the time because of a “shocking gap in FDA regulatory authority.” According to our government, there’s no need for the nice folks at the Food and Drug Administration to worry their pretty little heads about it.

Yes, that’s right: PepsiCo and other manufacturers get to decide who sits on the panel that reviews the safety of their own products.

That’s allowed under U.S. law. A company can determine all by itself that its new product or an ingredient it wants to use is “generally recognized as safe” and then start selling it. It doesn’t even need to alert the Food and Drug Administration about the new product, although the company can do so. If, you know, it feels like it.

If this worries you, you aren’t alone. Odds are that even the scientists at the FDA are wringing their hands over products like Sweetmyx 617 every single day. But they’re subject to the law, which allows the food industry to essentially police itself.

A 12-ounce can of Mug Root Beer contains over 10 teaspoons of added sugars — more than the American Heart Association says that anyone should eat in a day. But while opting for diet soda will eliminate all of that sugar, it won’t necessarily help you slim down, according to Nestle, author of the new book Soda Politics: Taking On Big Soda (and Winning).

This isn’t just a problem for soda drinkers — it’s a problem for all of us. That’s because the same flawed rules apply to all foods.

Unless Congress acts to change the current system, millions of Americans will keep buying foods and beverages made with new chemical additives that were declared safe by the corporations that make them. Indeed, what’s novel about Sweetmyx 617 is that we’re hearing about it at all.

Of course, with the present climate in Washington, Congress isn’t likely to pass any meaningful laws that make it easier for Americans know what they’re eating and drinking. So, lawmakers, listen up. File this under “Things to do when Congress is working again.” And, when that happens, please get on it.

Americans deserve the assurance that everything in our grocery stores has been declared safe. We have the right to know when products contain newly created chemicals so we can choose whether or not to put them in our bodies.


By Jill Richardson

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. www.OtherWords.org.

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