Exposing the NAKED Truth

Earlier this week (er, I guess it was last week, now), a FB friend shared the following post:

“Good morning american FB family, here’s something you should know about.

Naked-juice assortmentYou may be familiar with the Smoothy drinks from a company called NAKED that’s owned by Pepsi. Well, it seems that the contents of these drinks aren’t as all-natural or non-gmo after all. Naked has just agreed to settle a 9 million dollar class action lawsuit for false labeling. As it turns out, the drinks include 11 chemical additives, including one derived from Formaldehyde! Here’s a little info about Formaldehyde; ‘Formaldehyde is highly toxic to all animals, regardless of method of intake. Ingestion of as little as 30 mL (1 oz.) of a solution containing 37% formaldehyde has been reported to cause death in an adult human.[27] Water solution of formaldehyde is very corrosive and its ingestion can cause severe injury to the upper gastrointestinal tract. I used to drink these drinks all the time, don’t be fooled by fancy marketing!!!”

I don’t drink the stuff, and this was all news to me. But, what I noticed and wanted to comment on was the faulty “reasoning” that is often typical of the anti-GMO side, as well as others who are passionate for a cause but don’t always think critically.

Let me preface by saying that I am not excusing PepsiCo (or anyone else) from deceptive advertising practices. If they are guilty of this, they need to change their labeling and, I suppose, pay a fine of some sort. All of this, PepsiCo has agreed to do, though I don’t know if they’ve actually admitted to any wrongdoing. (Remember, agreeing to settle a suit does not necessarily constitute legal proof or admission of guilt.)

Please notice, however, the rhetorical twist that is used above. The writer says that “the drinks include 11 chemical additives”, which to the “all-natural”/organic crowd is anathema. Of course, technically, all natural flora and fauna are made up of chemicals. Remember bio-chemistry? Also, just because a chemical is added to a food product does not make it inherently bad — even if it is “derived from” or otherwise similar to a toxic substance. Lots of chemicals have similar molecular structures to one another. Yet, a relatively minor change in chemical makeup can change the properties such that, while beginning with a “parent” compound that is toxic to an organism (and maybe to others), one ends up with a “daughter” compound that is benign or even beneficial to the organism. So, assuming the chemical singled out here really is “derived from Formaldehyde”, that means next to nothing. We really need more information to make an honest & fair assessment. But, to further the confusion, the writer proceeds to explain the dangers of formaldehyde itself. Guilt (and danger) by association!

The writer ends by claiming s/he “used to drink these drinks all the time”, but doesn’t mention any health problems attributable to them. If the Naked drinks were really so damaging, wouldn’t everyone — including the writer, and not just those with certain allergies or digestive issues — be in really bad shape?

The primary claim in the suit was that PepsiCo labeled the Naked drinks as “all natural”, while in fact adding “non-natural” ingredients. But, were they? Frankly, from my admittedly limited reading on the case, I’m not sure they mislabeled anything. Consider the following re several of the chemical additives in question from a commenter on another (anti-GMO) article I found about the case:

“I hate the whole GMO debate since there’s nothing inherently dangerous or ‘bad’ about them, and the whole ‘natural is better’ thing is BS (lead is natural, for example).

The ‘calcium pantothenate’, which they describe as a ‘synthetically produced from formaldehyde’, is actually a more stable form of vitamin B5 and has no relation to formaldehyde.

Describing Fibersol-2? as ‘digestion-resistant fiber’ is redundant. All fiber is digestion resistant.

Fructooligosaccharides is NOT synthetic and occurs naturally in food such as bananas and garlic.

Similarly inulin is naturally occurring.

Niacinamide is another form of vitamin B (B3 in this case), and is less toxic than the more common niacin.

d-alpha and tocopherol acetate are the same thing. It is indeed artificial, but it’s a perfectly safe form of vitamn E.

Cyanocobalamin is usually made via bacterial fermentation, so perfectly natural. It is also the most common form of B12.

Pyridoxine hydrochloride is a naturally occuring type of vitamin B6.”

Assuming this commenter has his chemical facts right, these sound pretty safe to me, and only one or two are not “natural”. Even the supposedly formaldehyde-derived calcium pantothenate ain’t so scary. What we have here is the application of food science to increase the benefits of a beverage product. It is true that some people have (apparently) had bad reactions to Naked and other products. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other factors involved in many of those cases — e.g., undiagnosed allergies or digestive conditions that are sensitive to certain naturally-occurring ingredients.

periodic chart of elementsOf course, as indicated above, “natural-occurring” does not mean a substance is necessarily healthy any more than a “chemical additive” is necessarily harmful. There are many other factors to consider, besides the individual consumer’s allergies and digestive system sensitivities. For example, there is the amount of processing done and whether or not a chemical derived from an organism is still “natural” after processing. The writer of the above-mentioned article states, “According to the FDA, if it is more than ‘minimally processed,’ it loses its status as a natural ingredient.”. Yet, he also says that “our government has done nothing to truly clarify and enforce what ‘natural’ means”. So,… I’m a little confused on that, and I guess I’m not the only one.

Other considerations are size and frequency of dosage. So, someone who consumes normal/average amounts (however that is determined) of a product — and, thus, a particular ingredient — may be fine, whereas someone who consumes a LOT of it might have negative side-effects. In fact, there are several elements called “vital poisons” — arsenic, boron, chlorine, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, tin, vanadium, and zinc — which humans and other organisms must have in order to survive. Can’t get more “natural” than that. But, one’s intake of these must be very limited or one risks death, either sooner or later. (Some people manage to get most of these in adequate amounts in their diet. I, on the other hand, must rely on vitamin & mineral supplements.)

I suppose then, technically, labels like “100% Fruit” and “All-Natural” could be questioned in cases like this. So, if PepsiCo knew the rules and decided to play fast-n-loose in its labeling, then they got caught and should pay for it. On the other hand, the purported danger does not appear to be there and the level of fear and indignation by the anti-GMO crowd uncalled for. In fact, I think a lot of the alarmism against GMOs and other additives amounts to simply irresponsible, self-righteous fearmongering. Sometimes it’s even motivated by — gasp! — money and fame. (Organic foods is big biz, these days.)

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