A Not-So-Sweet Change

A few months back, we reported on a nefarious scheme to persuade the FDA to allow chocolate made with vegetable oil—not the traditional cocoa butter—to be labeled as “chocolate” (not “chocolate-flavored”). At the time of that post, April, the FDA was still accepting public input on the issue, and since the proposed change in regulations involved some 300 different foods, the agency expected quite a few.

Well, now the opinions are in. The AP/International Herald Tribune story “In the United States, a Bittersweet Battle Over the Future of Chocolate” reports that the FDA received about 1,500 comments, almost all of them focusing on chocolate. No one gave half a crap if the FDA allowed powdered milk in yogurt, but there were some passionate chocoholics out there terrified that their rich, creamy indulgence would be compromised with low-quality oil.

The FDA still hasn’t issued a ruling. But as is reported by the Tribune, the agency may be disinclined to allow the change:

‘Greater flexibility is one of the goals of our modernization,’ said Geraldine June, a supervisor in the regulations and review team of the agency’s food labeling and standards staff. ‘However, we always have to look at whether it results in a food that retains the basic nature of the food, retains the essential character of the food and is something that consumers expect. So that would be very difficult to do in a very short time.’

Though consumers seem to be united in their opposition to the proposed labeling change, manufacturers such as Néstle USA and Mars support it, while other, smaller chocolate makers are opposed. The Tribune says that debate on the issue has “split” the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. On one side are the big companies salivating over the potential savings (vegetable oils are about 1/4 the cost of cocoa butter); on the other, artisan chocolatiers who believe the traditional ways of making chocolate are still the best. Gary Guittard, the president of Guittard Chocolate in California, is a leader of the opposition:

‘This incremental degradation of foods over the years–it’s a degradation that comes from wanting to make it for less money,’ Guittard said. ‘We’re always trying to make a little more money, and that I think is the problem.’

I agree, and so do many others. Joe Powell, writing on his personal blog Cup of Joe Powell, calls the proposed change “just wrong” and points out that “If you outlaw real chocolate then only outlaws will have real chocolate for sale.” Blogger Drew, on his Drewdlephone, has a more thought-out take on the issue:

In years past, industry has been able to produce more and more for less and less, and charged us more and more for the privilege of consuming it. A perfect example none of you may be aware of is the use of good ol’ sugar in our soda. Years ago, it was deemed necessary to replace sugar with high-[fructose] corn syrup, making your CocaCola infinitely cheaper to produce in mass quantities and less dependent on imports of sugar from other countries. Betcha didn’t know that, did you? ...

In other words, your chocolate may become only so much chocolate. Just like maple syrup before it, the days of ‘Made with 15% Real Cocoa!’ may not be far away. And this in light of recent findings about chocolate, being consumed in moderation, providing the body with antioxidants and lowering our risk for certain things as heart disease. I fail to see how substituting a vegetable oil that provides us with none of these things is a great step forward for us as consumers. It’s simply a profit-centric scam to deprive us of cocoa, deprive countries that depend on cocoa exports of a valuable customer, and pad the pockets of certain companies.

Yeah! Fight the power! Want to know more? The official site for the chocolate-change opposition has lots of information for crazed candy-consumers.

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