Senomyx, Inc. announced that its sweetener enhancer Sweetmyx was approved as being Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) on Mar. 12, 2014 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in soft drinks. The FDA forced a retraction of that statement after stating that a third party organization had made the GRAS determination for Sweetmyx.
The third party approval of Sweetmyx as being GRAS was by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association’s (FEMA). No worry for Senomyx, the FDA has allowed the manufacturers of flavors and extracts to determine the safety of their products since 1960. Sweetmyx was formerly identified as S617.
Part of the cause for concern regarding our food and drug safety is that the manufacturers and food processors tell the FDA or the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) what is a safe product or procedure. Pharmaceutical manufacturers also help to set the FDA standards for safe practices in manufacturing drugs.
In attempts to cut costs of government inspections and certifications, the FDA has allowed groups like FEMA to certify safety of the products made by the members of the organization. The FDA and USDA have proposed to allow food processors the same latitude when it comes to certification of sanitizing and processing procedures. There have been multiple instances where serious health hazards have been created because self-certification was used instead of federal inspectors on site.
It is useful to get some background information on Senomyx and its products. This is courtesy of Wikipedia.
“Senomyx develops patented flavor enhancers by using "proprietary taste receptor-based assay systems." These receptors have been previously expressed in HEK293 cells. HEK stands for human embryonic kidney cells. These cells originally came from a healthy, electively aborted human fetus in the early 1970s. Using information from the human genome sequence, Senomyx has identified hundreds of taste receptors and currently owns 113 patents on their discoveries. Senomyx collaborates with seven of the world's largest food companies to further their research and to fund development of their technology.”
Pepsi is planning on using Sweetmyx to allow less sugar to be put into Pepsi products, with planned introduction sometime in 2014. Coca Cola is looking for a similar ingredient. The publicity about soft drinks being a direct cause of diabetes and obesity is hitting all soft drink manufacturers below the profit margin.
According to the same Wikipedia information, Sweetmyx will be listed among the general category “artificial flavors” on product labels so you will not know it is being used.
“Senomyx's products work by amplifying the intensity of flavors. Because very small amounts of the additive are used (reportedly less than one part per million) Senomyx's chemical compounds will not appear on labels, but will fall under the broad category of "artificial flavors." For the same reason, the company's chemicals have not undergone the FDA's usual safety approval process for food additives. Senomyx's MSG-enhancer gained the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status from the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, an industry-funded organization, in less than 18 months, which included three months of tests on rats.”
Not having Senomyx products specifically identified on food labels could create significant health issues. For post-menopausal women that have been identified as potential breast cancer risks from eating soy products, Senomyx’s bitter blocker could help hide the presence of hydrolyzed soy protein. Wikipedia continues with this description of the bitter blocker development.
“According to Senomyx's website, the company is collaborating with Solae, the international soy ingredients supplier, "to develop new bitter blockers that better modulate and control bitterness in certain soy-based products." Senomyx has identified the receptors in the mouth responsible for sensing bitter taste and developed a chemical additive to knock out these receptors when eaten with hydrolyzed soy protein and other soy derivatives.”
It is difficult to know where to start if you are interested in helping consumers regain some measure of safety in the foods and drugs that are being offered. It is troubling that caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, is made easier by the FDA and USDA. We can start by corresponding with our Senators and Representatives to demand better labeling of any ingredients that are based upon genetically engineered products, which is exactly what Senomyx is providing, and all other ingredients with potential health safety issues.
The more important point to communicate is that we want to know everything that is in what we are eating and drinking. We also want to know that the USDA and FDA are acting to protect our foods and drugs, and not to make it easier for companies to certify the safety of their own products.