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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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July 18, 2014

Chemistry Class For the "Food Babe"?

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Posted by Derek

I found this article from the Charlotte Observer on the "Food Babe" (Vani Hari) very interesting. A "menu consultant" for Chick-Fil-A, is she? Who knew?

I've come across a horribly long string of chemistry misapprehensions, mistakes, and blunders while looking at her site - she truly appears to know nothing whatsoever about chemistry, not that this would appear to bother her much. (Wavefunction has a good article on these). I noticed in the comments section of the newspaper's article that someone is apparently trying to crowdsource a fundraising drive to send her to some chemistry classes. I enjoy that idea very much, although (1) horse, water, drink, etc., and (2) she appears to have sufficient funds to do this already, were it of any possible interest to her. And more money coming in all the time. She may well make more money telling people that they're eating yoga mats than I do trying to discover drugs.

Comments (46) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: General Scientific News


1. weirdo on July 18, 2014 11:22 AM writes...

No linky to story.

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2. ed on July 18, 2014 11:53 AM writes...

The link to the story is in the first line of the wavefunction article.

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3. MoMo on July 18, 2014 11:55 AM writes...

At least she is one of the FEW trying to educate the public on smart food choices and additives that are snuck into the food supply.

Where are all the food scientists with Ph.D.s and why are they not speaking up? Because they are all pussies-too afraid to speak up on controversial topics that pay their salaries. And who teaches these topics in Primetime? Oz, Nye and other self-serving clowns of medicine and science.

Her blog is about ingredient transparency and choice in the marketplace, and she is making a difference and scaring the hell out of the ignorant bastards in corporate America that are degrading our overall health and food quality standards.

Go Food Babe!

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4. CMCguy on July 18, 2014 12:05 PM writes...

I think this is same "expert" who that I happen to see in passing on "the Doctors" talking about all the hazardous unidentified additives in Beer. I tuned her out after the first comment or two as not having any clue on realistic dangers with chemicals and recalled your recent posts on general reaction public has to labeling any chemical.
Of course now I am going eat a Hersey's chocolate bar because I can pronounce all the ingredients.

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5. oldnuke on July 18, 2014 12:12 PM writes...

Judging from the Chick-Fil-A menu, she doesn't know much about food either. No imagination at all.

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6. oldnuke on July 18, 2014 12:16 PM writes...

For someone worried about "chemicals", here are the ingredients for her employer's sausage and eggs breakfast:

Chick-fil-A Sausage Platter

Egg (whole egg, citric acid, butter oil [soybean oil, palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor, TBHQ and citric acid added as preservatives, and artificial color]), biscuit (enriched bleached wheat flour [niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], vegetable oil shortening [palm and/or palm kernel oils], sugar, cultured nonfat milk, leavening [sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate], salt, maltodextrin, whey, natural flavor, dextrose, water, self-rising flour [enriched bleached flour {wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid}, baking powder {baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate}, salt], butter oil [soybean oil, palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, artificial flavor, TBHQ and citric acid added as preservatives, and artificial color]), sausage (pork, water, salt, spices, sodium phosphates, dextrose, monosodium glutamate, caramel color), gravy (water, nondairy creamer [soybean oil, corn syrup solids, sodium caseinate, sugar, dipotassium phosphate, mono & diglycerides, and natural flavor] maltodextrin, modified corn starch, wheat flour, buttermilk solids, salt, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium caseinate, dextrose, sodium citrate, spices, xanthan gum, FD&C Yellow # 5, FD&C Yellow # 6), sausage [pork, water, salt, spices, sodium phosphates, dextrose, monosodium glutamate, caramel color])

Well at least it has an egg in it. Don't know if it came from a chicken though. :-)

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7. Puff the mutant dragon on July 18, 2014 12:20 PM writes...

The Food Babe is a blogger who has made it her mission to misinform and mislead the public about the science and chemistry of food. that's not what she would say she does...but that's what I would say she does. somehow she's acquired what is for a blog a decent following among the organic anti-GMO let's-keep-everything-natural crowd. kind of annoying really. oh, and did I say she's anti-vaccine too

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8. MoMo on July 18, 2014 12:30 PM writes...

Not so fast Old Nuke! She wrote about the maniacal number of ingredients in ChickFilA food before- see

Let's see if her as sponsor now silences her, but I doubt it.

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9. The Iron Chemist on July 18, 2014 1:12 PM writes...

Having a terrible teacher can do more harm than not having any teacher at all.

I'm all for smart eating choices, but these have to be driven by accurate, well-vetted, and properly analyzed information. To put it harshly, such information is in short supply in nutritional science. Instead, it's filled with new-age crap and shoddy work that whips poorly educated journalists into a frenzy and convinces Hollywood actresses to eat clay to remove "negative isotopes."

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10. anon on July 18, 2014 1:12 PM writes...

@ momo:

well your nothing if not consistent...

She is just "about ingredient transparency and choice in the marketplace" regardless of her idiotic methods of communicating it.

Those who do speak up are trying just trying to smear her mission.

Those who don't speak up are "all pussies"

It must be satisfying to live in such a black and white self-affirming box to which no other issues of grey can enter.

as has been mentioned on this blog before: a "transparent" ingredient list is better seen as this

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11. Bring the Movies. on July 18, 2014 1:40 PM writes...

Who cares if she is an idiot? She's hot!

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12. Charlotte Chemist on July 18, 2014 1:41 PM writes...

I had no idea she was based in Charlotte! I teach chemistry at UNC-Charlotte, and I can say that she'd be welcome to sit in on any of my classes. I'm sure if we call it "community outreach," we could offer her a seat for free...

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13. MoMo on July 18, 2014 2:34 PM writes...


This is America and you can say anything you want about her "mission".

The pussies I was referring to are my scientific breatheren who don't have the cohones to speak out against bad food additives- and there are too many to mention here!

Again, I state- Where are the TRAINED food scientists out there who know that certain foods contain toxins by design- yet say NOTHING?

And internet based guerrilla tactics seem to work-right makers of brominated vegetable oils and triclosan?
How's sales treating you?

Now if I can only get the Yellow#5 out of my kid's Spongebob Rice Krispy Treats maybe-just maybe-I can take him off Ritalin!

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14. bad wolf on July 18, 2014 2:53 PM writes...

No ed, that's a link to the Food babe's website. Two internet articles, both describing a newspaper article, neither linking to it. Weird.

i keep hoping all the science out there will outweigh people irrationally worried about ppm-levels of BVO but so far, no dice.

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15. herveus on July 18, 2014 2:56 PM writes...

Ummm... MoMo, she is *not* "educating the public" any more than the Creation Museum is "educating the public". She is speaking as if she actually knew what she was talking about while simultaneously demonstrating the depth of her ignorance to anyone who has a clue.

Such accuracy as she may from time to time exhibit is akin to a stopped clock being right twice a day.

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16. Chief Wiggum on July 18, 2014 3:06 PM writes...

Why are the pretty ones always insane?

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17. BVO on July 18, 2014 3:31 PM writes...

@14: Why wouldn't you be worried about ppm amounts of BVO? People have gotten sick from BVO in soft drinks at elevated but hardly heroic levels of intake - a few liters of soda a day (N Engl J Med 2003; 348:1932-1934 and J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1997;35(3):315-20) I don't understand why we keep using it when there is a near-drop-in substitute (glycerol ester of wood rosin). It is very much like Olestra, which is consumed in gram quantities - most of it is recovered in feces of studied rats ( You can make the argument that you shouldn't be drinking that much soda, and you'd have a good argument, but why put something in food that actually is demonstrably toxic when an alternative exists that isn't burdensome to implement and is already used in large-scale food manufacturing?

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18. bad wolf on July 18, 2014 3:44 PM writes...

Well, because she completely misses the point that the levels are below 15ppm and because the original complainant was a high-school kid whose whole argument boiled down to "sounds yucky!". If that's all they've got, then yeah, i expect someone to pop up with a counter. i mean where's all this Big Food Additive money, then?

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19. being serious on July 18, 2014 3:45 PM writes...

We need more hot scientists to speak to the public.

ps: I started typing this thinking it as a joke, but after reading it again, I think it is actually a good idea.

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20. Abe Froman on July 18, 2014 3:57 PM writes...

This past weekend I barbqued some great German sausages, which I truly enjoy! I am aware of the possible risk of nitrates contained therein. However, I would rather risk the adverse effects of consuming the nitrates rather than the risk of contracting botulism poisoning from improperly cured/stored/handled meats...

It's the balance of risk/reward.

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21. anon on July 18, 2014 4:14 PM writes...

@ momo:
wow! well, at least you make your idiocy obvious to everyone, just like that food lady.

"Now if I can only get the Yellow#5 out of my kid's Spongebob Rice Krispy Treats maybe-just maybe-I can take him off Ritalin!"

maybe stop giving your kids huge piles of sugar,it might be a bigger problem than the "Yellow 5"

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22. MoMo on July 18, 2014 4:36 PM writes...

Its a joke Anon, glad you took it seriously.

My kid wont eat that crap and reads labels better than most of you supporting BVO. And calling people names shows weakness and fear. But still BVO and Yellow#5 is banned everywhere but the US because there is no reputable SCIENTIST speaking aboutissue this PUBLICLY.

So Use a Filter (information from Food Babe) or Be the Filter-there's a dialysis center near you!

Its your choice as Americans.

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23. Anonymous on July 18, 2014 4:56 PM writes...


Food Babe is a bad filter, because her information and presentation is wrong a lot of the time. A bad filter should't perform any better than no filter:

The problem is that the food industry is in fact contributing to an extreme health crisis, but they're not doing it with small quantity food additives like dyes and preservatives; they're doing it with macro ingredients like sodium, sugars, and saturated and trans fats.

Plus, packaged food companies are less of a problem than restaurants and fast food, because they are becoming the venues by which people are getting the majority of their food, and those places are generally worse about having their nutrition facts available, having high salt and high fat foods, and inappropriate portion sizing.

Worrying about BVO and Yellow 5 and the like is like making beds in a burning house.

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24. PharmaHeretic on July 18, 2014 6:31 PM writes...

More layoffs on the way?

AbbVie Is Biggest to Quit U.S. Address in $55 Billion Shire Deal

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25. Anonymous on July 18, 2014 6:50 PM writes...

Reputable scientists regularly try to convey the most effective way to directly improve health. One example is obviously the FDA and their published guidelines.

It's not a joke or a trick, this advice has never been hidden.

Many people are far more drawn out to a series of fallacies, most of which rely on people confusing how strongly they feel about something, with how important it actually is.

The reason we harp on people like Food Babe, is that her approach is possibly one of the least effective ways of actually getting people healthier. A soda is not unhealthy because of BVO, its unhealthy because its a can of refined sugar.

She sells the illusion of progress, to MoMo and their ilk, at the expense of actual education.

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26. Anonymous on July 18, 2014 9:29 PM writes...

"22. MoMo on July 18, 2014 4:36 PM writes...

[...] calling people names shows weakness and fear."

"3. MoMo on July 18, 2014 11:55 AM writes...

Where are all the food scientists with Ph.D.s and why are they not speaking up? Because they are all pussies-too afraid to speak up on controversial topics that pay their salaries."

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27. BVO on July 18, 2014 9:43 PM writes...

The claiming BVO is safe just baffles me. In addition to the published examples of its toxicity at fairly modest levels (within an order of magnitude of "normal" consumption levels), given how so many unnatural lipids (trans-fats, PFOA, etc) have proven to be toxic, is it that surprising that BVO not be great? I agree that sugared soda is really bad, but I think diet soda is relatively safe - including aspartame, sucralose (so this isn't knee-jerk fear of organohalogens), acesulfame, etc. The worst ingredient is probably BVO (in those that contain it). There is a safe substitute for this. Why not admit this one is probably bad and that "food babe" might be right about this one thing?

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28. carchemist on July 18, 2014 11:22 PM writes...

Can anyone really be sure about the safety of compounds made by corporations seeking profits?
Regardless, it is mainly because of chemistry that we live longer healthier lives than at any other time in history. The simple act of driving your car is more dangerous than any other thing we do. This really is a useful way to measure risk, compare your chances of dying or being hurt by anything to the chance of getting killed or hurt in a car accident on the way to work.

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29. z on July 19, 2014 8:39 AM writes...

I guess she in fact knows chemistry enough to render her own arguments invalid. And also how much of chemistry does her target audience know. Now try to prove this to her followers.

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30. Oblarg on July 19, 2014 9:10 AM writes...


I don't know about you, but I'd certainly classify a few liters per day as "heroic" intake levels. An order of magnitude is not some insignificant thing. Now, I might agree on principle that, in a vacuum, it's nice to avoid food additives that are toxic within feasibly attainable consumption levels where possible, and by that criterion, yes, it would be better to use something other than BVO, but it's hardly a pressing public health issue. Anyone drinking enough soda to get sick from the BVO is already going to be very ill for a plethora of other reasons. At the levels of consumption for all but a vanishing minority of the population, BVO does no measurable harm. Why get so worked up about it when there are actually important issues that you could get worked up about?

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31. oldnuke on July 19, 2014 6:29 PM writes...

The CE&N didn't waste any time with this topic!


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32. Kaleberg on July 19, 2014 11:00 PM writes...

The thing that bothers me about the middle section of the supermarket isn't the "chemicals". It's that the food is usually awful: too much fat, too much sugar, too much salt, full of weird non-food-like textures, too little food flavor. Food science went a little nuts in the 1970s. Talk to anyone who was working for a big food firm during the era, before and after. They'd drop some spice or flavoring, or change the fat base, then they'd try and compensate with all sorts of modifiers. They got so concerned with mouth-feel, that they forgot all about mouth-taste.

This food babe sounds like an idiot, but the food business is full of idiots. I remember reading a book about the history of sugar, Sweetness and Power, and the author noted that we don't just eat food, we eat meaning. That probably explains the long, long human history of weird-ass food proscriptions and diets.

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33. Anonymous on July 20, 2014 5:49 AM writes...

Damn she is hot!

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34. Brendan on July 20, 2014 7:33 AM writes...

The food blogger at NPR also tends to go for the pseudo science. They also don't make corrections when incorrect facts are pointed out to them.

It seems like there is a hunger and interest out there for scientific explanations of day to day things, but either they distrust scientists, they don't know where to find accurate information, or we are doing a bad job of reaching people.

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35. kj on July 20, 2014 3:21 PM writes...

"given how so many unnatural lipids (trans-fats, PFOA, etc) have proven to be toxic, is it that surprising that BVO not be great?"

The problem is that food babe argues that it is bad since bromine compounds are used in carpets. A wrong explanation is a dangerous thing, by the same logic we should avoid salt since chlorine is toxic. Or never use GMO's since there is some fundamental law of the universe that says the technology is pure, irrevocable, evil.

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36. Anonymous on July 20, 2014 6:17 PM writes...

@11, @33 and others- Saying that she’s hot is somewhat sexist, but I wonder if she would be where she is if her appearance was less attractive. Look at many of the young women on these “news” shows, how many really have any in-depth knowledge or insightful analysis. Maria Bartiromo still looks good to me and is pleasant to watch but she is almost totally useless for investment information or financial analysis.

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37. Anonymous on July 20, 2014 7:56 PM writes...

@36 and others: I absolutely love this post by Derek and the comments. As a long time reader, it makes me truly realize that although Derek and the hundred or so or people on his blog who write intelligent commentary just don't matter too much in the big scheme of things. It's so sad, but so true. I'm guessing that the Food Babe has an (relatively) enormous readership and it just doesn not matter if what she says is correct or not.

As painful as it may be, intellect that is apparent on this blog just doesn't get attention. From the public, to companies, to anybody outside of a very small circle of people. Science, as we know it, has become a solely marketing enterprise. As much as that boils my blood, I've come to accept it and try to benefit from it as much as I can while trying to maintain scientific integrity. To all you dedicated and true scientists out there, I recommend you do this same - unfortunately, this is just not going to change any time soon.

As yes, as a chemist turned financial professional, Maria is a complete and total tool. Again, CNBC and her are all marketing, no substance.

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38. In Vivo Veritas on July 21, 2014 8:08 AM writes...

Momo - you keep asking where the scientists are on this - try Marion Nestle and/or Nicole Avena. Marion has been doing this for a long time and is damn good. Nicole has a hard science background, and is shouting her message from the moutaintop.
These are 2 I know personally, of literally dozens. And that's limiting myself to those with a public persona. Most scientists just let the data speak for itself.

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39. ab on July 21, 2014 10:24 AM writes...

@17 BVO and others:
Did you happen to read the two articles you referenced? In the NEJM article, the patient reported ingesting 8 L (eight f-ing liters!) of Ruby Red Squirt for a period of several months prior to presenting to his doctor with issues. In the second case, the patient reported drinking "a case or two" of generic cola for an extended period prior to presenting with issues. When measured, the second patient had a concentration of 3.2 grams of free bromide per liter of blood in his system. If these are not heroic exposures, then you and I see this world very differently.

But whether or not these constitute "heroic exposures," let's briefly consider the clinical history of BVO. It has been used in soft drinks since 1931. In the 80+ years that people have been ingesting it, we have a total of 2 cases in which BVO could possibly be implicated. We'll ignore for the moment the fact that the problems that each of these two patients had may have been related to something other than BVO. In fact, they could have been caused by any of the other ingredients in the Squirt/cola, or some other item in their diets or lifestyles that we don't know about. These people weren't exactly models of healthy living. But as I said, we'll ignore those possibilities. So we have 2 cases. Is it really that difficult to understand why practicing, educated scientists aren't on the front lines fighting Big Food over BVO? Really?

You think glycerol ester of wood rosin is a perfect substitute devoid of toxicity? Show me the data that says it's perfectly safe for every person on earth to ingest 10x or 100x the recommended daily allowance of this material for months on end without a single person getting sick. Do you even know what glycerol ester of wood rosin is? It's the product of the chemical reaction between purified pine pitch and glycerin. It's not exactly natural, it's difficult to get consistent purity/ratio of components, and the reaction starting materials are largely untested in terms of toxicity. So no, glycerol ester of wood rosin is not something I'm dying to make ubiquitous in our food supply.

You say BVO is banned in Europe and elsewhere, therefore the FDA must be owned by Big Food. Ask the respective European regulatory agencies how things went with thalidomide. Or for more current examples, take a look at the variety of drugs and other products that are banned in the US, but not in Europe. Hint: European regulatory agencies don't exactly have a monopoly on good decision making with regard to food and drug safety.

Finally, my mother in law just died of liver cancer. My grandfather died of lung cancer. Both of my parents are fighting skin cancer. My grandmother has suffered with debilitating osteoarthritis for several decades. My wife is almost certain to get Alzheimer's (it runs in the family). You think I'm going to spend my energy on a questionable-at-best link between BVO and 2 patients ever when I could instead focus my efforts on actual known diseases that affect me and my family directly? Honestly, get a f'ing clue. [Derek, sorry for the abbreviated curse words]

All of us "pussy" scientists have decisions to make regarding how we spend our time and energy. The reason we don't fight this particular fight is because, relative to the other battles, this one just doesn't rate. It doesn't. No one gives a $hit because it just doesn't matter. The fact that you scream and shout and really think it should matter doesn't make it so.

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40. ab on July 21, 2014 11:28 AM writes...

To clarify, in the first paragraph above, that should be 8 L PER DAY of Squirt for several months, and a case or two PER DAY of generic cola.

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41. metaphysician on July 21, 2014 4:12 PM writes...


I suspect it boils down to "people hate being wrong". They have a thirst for 'scientific' explanations, that confirm what they already believe. They *don't* have a thirst for scientific explanations that contradict their own instincts and biases.

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42. Joshua Cranmer on July 21, 2014 5:15 PM writes...


Everywhere else? Really? Please provide documentary evidence from the 192 non-US member countries of the UN that BVO and Yellow #5 are actually banned (and I don't mean "never had an application", I mean actually "banned"). Actually, I'll be kind: you can optionally instead provide evidence that food additives aren't regulated in a country, or even provide evidence that you can't figure out whether or not additives are regulated.

You still won't be able to do it, I wager, since Canada allows BVO. I suspect your definition of "everywhere else" is really just "the European Union," which, quite frankly, is a stupid definition, particularly when some of the health agencies there seem to prefer catering to public opinion rather than relying on factual data (e.g., opposition to GMO).

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43. YelSrini on July 21, 2014 5:44 PM writes...

Quite an interesting and heated discussion. @42, BVO was banned in India during the 90s. I don't know about the remaining countries.

Food-babe may be a nut and misinformed about some things but I would say the Food and Ag industries have dedicated misinformation campaigns out here in the third world. They have steam-rolled any scientific or regulatory opposition, and god knows we can't find decent food easily anymore without completely skipping all processed foods. So to stand up to them, it is ok to be as radical as she is.

That said, I am appalled at her stance on vaccines.

My 2c. Thanks.

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44. qvxb on July 22, 2014 2:43 PM writes...

@12: If you can successfully teach Food Babe chemistry, the next challenge would be to teach Ke$ha to bowl. (See her Blah Blah Blah video.)

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45. Vader on July 23, 2014 9:11 AM writes...

"Can anyone really be sure about the safety of compounds made by corporations seeking profits?"

Can anybody really be sure about the safety of compounds made by plants seeking to not be eaten by animals?

Corporations want to make money. This does not require sickening their customers. And making your customers sick is generally not a great business plan.

Plants want to live to reproduce. This often does require poisoning someone. For a plant, being toxic to herbivores is often a great business plan.

And yet we require extensive testing of food additives, but virtually testing of herbal supplements. Or even of the offerings you'll find in a good produce section.

Which only confirms the classical conservative view of humanity, which is that people are idiots.

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46. NC on July 27, 2014 11:34 PM writes...

#36 - your comment somehow manages to be more sexist than the sexists you're calling out? Congrats!

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