The New York Times has a piece on nutraceuticals that caught my eye as an example of the news media’s skepticism about fortified food. The article begins:
“O[ff] the coast of Peru swim billions of sardines and anchovies: oily, smelly little fish, rich in nutritious omega-3 fatty acids. Their spot on the food chain is low; many will be caught, ground up, and fed as fishmeal to bigger animals.
“But a few have a more exalted destiny: to be transported, purified and served at North American breakfast tables in the form of Tropicana Healthy Heart orange juice and Wonder Headstart bread. These new products promise to deliver the health benefits of fish oil without the smell and the taste — without, in fact, the fish.”
But the article’s author, Julia Moskin, without citation or attribution, poses these loaded questions: “Are we really that close to a world in which food functions as a nutrient delivery system, made possible by microencapsulation and fine-spray coating? And what would this mean for food and human nutrition?”
In the end, Ms. Moskin’s piece appears full of cynicism and doubt about the industry. She writes off nutraceuticals as a cheap marketing ploy:
“[W]ith recent rising costs in raw materials, flavorings and transport, many food companies are refocusing their research and development; instead of adding expensive ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes or honey-roasted almonds to existing products, the search is on for inexpensive ‘value-added’ products that customers will pay extra for.”
Ms. Moskin does quote claims made by the industry but notes that university scientists disagree with the claims—implying that these scientists must be right because they are not employed by industry.
To me, the article demonstrates the need for the industry to invest in more independent research and verification. As the nutraceuticals industry matures and grows, claims by industry will be met with growing suspicion and, inevitably, assertions of “consumer fraud.” Consumers may believe health claims by small health food companies that they “trust.” But once those same companies (and their industries) grower larger, people by their nature become more skeptical.