Monday, April 28, 2014

Don't know how I feel about this letter on azodicarbonamide

An interesting one from this week's C&EN on azodicarbonamide and bread. (Here's a bit of background on the "yoga mat chemical" as the news has begun to call it.): 
As insight into the desirability of using azodicarbonamide in bread making, consider how many of C&EN’s readers would use this ingredient when making bread for themselves (C&EN, Feb. 17, page 9). Few would, I daresay. There are two reasons: First, it is unnecessary. Although it functions as a dough conditioner, azodicarbonamide’s purpose is to decrease the cost of making large amounts of bread quickly. Second, with the notable exceptions of salt, water, and a few necessary minerals, many people, if not most, find the use of ingredients in their food that are not derived by simple processes from living things to be offensive. 
The focus solely on the safety of ingredients is often used to frame the discussion of an issue so as to preclude consideration of this second point as a valid reason for opposition to their use. This is usually followed up by claims that the public is uneducated in such matters, implying that they are not fit to make decisions about what they eat. 
David Lane
Davis, Calif.
I think this is an interesting perspective and one not usually seen in the pages of C&EN.

I think he gets at something that chemists will have a difficult time escaping: if framed in the correct manner, much labor-and cost-saving activity in the food preparation sector ('pink slime', etc.) triggers the "ick factor"*. That it's scientifically irrelevant or inaccurate doesn't really matter, and efforts to convince the general public otherwise have a low probability of success.

*I'm reminded of Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory, specifically "sanctity/degradation."

7 comments:

  1. Look up the preparation of artificial vanilla.

    Yep, people sure find these non-natural compounds to be scary and would never use them.

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  2. it is not just yuck factor - the use of this stuff is about stale spongy sandwich bread that keep on the shelf for week and half without turning brick solid. Thank you, I will pass.

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  3. I agree that the framing of any agrument for or against a food ingredient/process is much more important for the acceptance (or rejection) of that ingredient/process from the general public than an actual scientific evaluation of that process. The chemophobic nonsense that the general public believes much of the time does make them unfit to make logical decisions about what they eat, but not unfit to make decisions in general. Just logical ones :)

    That being said, the general public does have some reason to be skeptical of government regulatory bodies and big food businesses since there have been some screw-ups/oversights over the years. Trust is a difficult thing to gain, and an easy thing to lose.

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    1. That being said, the general public does have some reason to be skeptical of government regulatory bodies and big food businesses since there have been some screw-ups/oversights over the years. Trust is a difficult thing to gain, and an easy thing to lose.

      This is a point which I think is important. Big Business doesn't have the public's health and safety in their best interest, so I don't think it's fair to criticize the public's fears of "chemicals," GMO's, etc. Just because they don't have a hard science background that doesn't mean we can't take their concerns to heart or that we can ignore that some business practices are actually pretty shady, and the chemical industry is no exception. The public doesn't trust us because we've given them no reason to.

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  4. Milkshake- yup, and Americans wonder why Europeans hate North American bread.....

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  5. Azodicarbonamide makes crappy bread, and it's potentially harmful to boot. Maybe not as dangerous as saturated fat, but why use something that is potentially harmful, makes an inferior product, and is unnecessary?
    Frankly, we have epidemics of many metabolic diseases in America, and the incidences of these diseases are rising. Something is causing them. Environmental and dietary chemicals are as likely a cause as anything. I suspect endocrine disruptors are a major player. Yes, I'm a chemist. No, I'm not unduly afraid of chemicals. But you can't find a meal in a grocery store that isn't wrapped in phthalates or BPA (or its analogs), and that doesn't contain one or more chemical additive. It's time we take a closer look. Eliminating potentially harmful ingredients is also a good step.

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  6. Azodicarbonamide is banned as a food additive in the European Union. Mind you, that doesn't stop us having some pretty awful bread here in the UK.

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