Contains Potassium Benzoate, Acelsulfame Potassium, Phenylketoneurics and other more pronounceable chemicals(Originally published in Gettysburg Times, March 22, 2013)

Have you ever wondered what’s next in the soft drink line? A television commercial the other night had the answer.

Pepsi NEXT. With 60 percent less sugar – though less sugar than what, it didn’t say. Pepsi LAST, maybe?

I like carbonated water. I rarely drink sodas because a) I’m diabetic and b) I’m not sure what they use to replace sugar is better for me than the sugar it replaces. Your mileage may vary; I’m not preaching here. Still, it would be nice to now exactly what is in the stuff we eat and drink. We have gone a long time surviving on jokes such as, “I don’t eat anything I can’t pronounce,” but that’s not true, either. Trying to read the list of ingredients in, say, a loaf of bread can cause one’s eyes to tangle.

The only labels food manufacturers seem willing to place in large, easy to read and understand, signage are labels that do not really tell us anything.
“0 Trans Fats” – Most of us haven’t a clue what trans fats are, but if the label says there are none, there must be a reason.

What I do know from reading labels that almost anything that has “Less Fat,” also has more salt, which is known to increase blood pressure in at least some people. There are no signs, though, proclaiming “More Salt!”

“Contains Sea Salt” – Wow! I’ve read that sea salt contains less sodium, which is what makes salt salty. More than that, I suspect “sea salt” simply sounds more natural than the stuff we dig up from mines and treat with iodine.

And anything “Light” must be better than anything heavy, except that heavy stuff is not as conspicuously labeled.

But those other chemicals? Things such as calcium propionate “to retard spoilage” of the loaf of bread I use for the occasional grilled cheese sandwich. No bold print on those.

There also is no bold print on foods created in laboratories – “genetically engineered” foods such as corn, soybeans or alfalfa. A growing number of people suspect food engineered to kill bugs and weeds likely is bad for humans and their offspring, and would like to see it labeled. Sure, Mother Nature has been modifying genes since their have been genes to modify, but she works slowly and deliberately. We humans have a track record indicating we are less than similarly deliberate in our designs.

There is a bill in the Pennsylvania senate (SB 653) to require just such signs and labels. Monsanto – the poster child for laboratory-created foodstuffs – reportedly spent nearly $6 million last year to defeat a similar labeling proposal in California. According to the company and its supporters, mandatory labeling of genetically engineered produce would increase family grocery bills about $400 a year, increase taxes, and unnecessarily frighten customers into thinking food thus labeled might be unsafe.

The objections of Monsanto, and a host of other companies involved in biotechnology, are not without good reason. We consumers do read labels, even when we don’t know what we are reading. And once we decide there is something suspicious – or downright dangerous – about something we are eating and feeding to our kids, we stop eating and feeding it. That kind of thinking can be hazardous to a food maker’s bottom line.

Meanwhile, proponents of labeling are girding for a battle in the legislatures of Pennsylvania and about 20 other states, and the biotech companies have begun looking for ways to get the federal government to come out with some more palatable regulations that will supersede those onerous requirements on which the states are working.

For myself, I wonder what Monsanto, et. al., knows or fears learning that would make it so willing to spend so much money keeping the rest of us from finding out.