Editor's Plate: Science Doesn’t Matter

May 22, 2015
There’s proof this month that questionable ingredients can be replaced.

“If people trust you, the science doesn’t matter. If people don’t trust you, the science doesn’t matter.”

Those are the wisest words I’ve heard in a long time. They were uttered at our own Food Leaders Summit in April by Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, who in turn credited them to Jack Bobo from the State Department.

Consumer trust and company transparency are probably the two biggest issues facing the food and beverage industry today. Yet, acceding to consumer demands seems to gets more scorn and criticism than it does praise among most industry professionals.

Why? Because science doesn’t back up some of the crazy notions these consumers get in their heads. High-fructose corn syrup is more fattening than sugar? Synthetic colors cause autism? Antibiotics in farm animals are creating antibiotic-resistant infections?

But, let’s face it: Something has gone wrong lately, somewhere in our lives or the environment, or we wouldn’t have autism, obesity and superbugs. At the very least, it’s always good business to “give the lady what she wants,” as Chicago department store magnate Marshall Field said more than 100 years ago. And cleaner labels are what at least a segment of the consuming public wants.

That’s exactly what a handful of food & beverage processors have done in the past month. It was remarkable to see three prime examples announced in the same week.

In One news story, Kraft Foods Group on April 20 announced it was removing artificial preservatives and synthetic colors from its classic Original Macaroni & Cheese in the U.S. PepsiCo will replace aspartame in its diet colas with sucralose and acesulfame potassium. And Tyson will halt the use of human antibiotics in its broiler chickens (although not until September 2017, which is oddly far off).

I strongly suspect the scientists and leaders at each of those companies disagree with the logic behind those decisions. They undoubtedly have full faith in the science that led to the use of those ingredients in the first place. But two facts remain: 1. Consumers want these things to happen. 2. Replacing these ingredients can happen.

PepsiCo’s not going out of business. Kraft isn’t taking mac & cheese off the market. And Tyson’s going to sell just as many chickens (maybe more!). Life for these companies will go on, quite likely for the better, and their ultimate customers will be happier, and perhaps even grateful. Because, in the beginning, the science may matter ... but in the end, it doesn’t.

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