Reading a node on New Coke expounding a changeover in coke manufacture between sugar and corn syrup, I was compelled by the node to read the back of my coke can. On doing so, I discovered that it was indeed sugar in my coke, not that I was wondering where the jitters were coming from. Then I noticed in the rest of the ingredients; blah blah blah, flavourings (including caffeine). This got me thinking. Coca-cola have always had their secret ingredients, as have KFC and numerous other manufacturers of questionable goods. This stops the competition from looking at their product and saying; "Hey, We can make that!". But what right have they to sell us a product, advertise a product at everyone, including kids, without actually telling us what's in it. For all we know the illustrious seven herbs and spices could be the spawn of seven different types of spider. I know it is not that severe, but it highlights a fundamental issue of corporate gains vs. consumer rights. Should we be kept in the dark about substances we are ingesting so that the corporation can maintain a monopoly on their product?
Secret ingredients are not legally covered by patents or copyrights, it's presence in the patent being a dead giveaway as to what it is. Cleverly, corporate law has produced something called the Uniform Trade Secrets Act of 1985 to protect their secret ingredients, and developed non-disclosure agreements to enforce it. This enables a company to patent an item, technique etc. without actually revealing what it is, and keeping this information a secret without a time limit, as would be in the case of a patent. The stated aim of this law is to withhold information from the public in order to economically benefit the producer.
jessicapierce brought up the interesting point that in cases of customers with food allergies, is it legal for the companies to continue to protect their ingredients from public scrutiny? The answer is actually yes, officially. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (USA) forces food manufacturers to label for safety. I could find no mention in the FDA's act (http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/alrgact.html) mentioning the trade secrets law specifically, but it does state the necessity that "the word `Contains', followed by the name of the food source from which the major food allergen is derived, is printed immediately after or is adjacent to the list of ingredients".
Peanuts, one of the major allergen ingredients, is probably not used as a secret ingredient, it's flavour being fairly recognisable, but other secret ingredients are not so noticable. Take for example, the use of Monosodium Glutemate. Aside from the argument of whether or not there is a global MSG conspiracy, it is an allergen, with 1 in 100 (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FS123) people being affected. MSG is still, however, labelled on packaging as glutamic acid, glutamate, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, yeast nutrient, yeast food, or natural flavouring. This is legitimised by the fact that the MSG used in these products is only 98% Monosodium Glutemate, and therefore do not need to be labelled as such (http://duke.usask.ca/~cavanst/msg.htm).
The bottom line is that secret ingredients make money, both through their effect on the product, and their advertising benefit. Consumer rights? Bah.
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