Recently I realised that the lemonade icy poles we had been innocently letting Jenna have for an occasional treat might actually have lemon juice in them. Jenna gets terrible reflux from citrus fruit. I figured lemonade was just sugar and water, so I hadn’t stressed about it too much – there was no lemon listed in the ingredients. Instead there was the apparently innocuous word “flavor”. But then I noticed that the front of the lemonade bottle says “natural lemon flavor”, so I wondered about the icy poles.
Now you might think that natural lemon flavor comes from lemons. But not necessarily. Legally, “natural lemon flavor” means that it tastes lemony and is ‘natural’ (usually plant derived). Doesn’t necessarily mean it comes from lemons. It could be as innocuous as citric acid. But it might be lemon juice. Rather than take the risk, I called the consumer information number on the pack – Nestle encourages their customers to call with any queries. Pardon me while I make sceptical, snorting noises – you will understand shortly.
According to Australian law, flavors are trade secrets. Companies do not have to say what they are, or where they come from. Which is all very nice for their little company secrets, but when you have an allergy or intolerance sufferer in the house, it makes life very difficult. Anyway, I called Nestle, hopeful of an answer, and was told “we can’t tell you. It’s a trade secret. If you’re worried, don’t eat it.”
This isn’t very helpful when you have a 3 year old whose diet is already hugely restricted, and you wanted to give her an occasional lemonade icypole as a treat! Yes, we do make our own, but kids love getting something from the milk bar, or out of a packet. Home made never holds the same attraction, especially when the kids all around them are getting treats.
So I asked if there was any way I could get this information. They said they would only divulge it to a doctor. When I asked if my doctor could write them a letter, they said no, the doctor would have to call in person, and enter into a contract with the company. This smells very much like a ploy to make sure it never happens – name a GP who has the time for shenanigans like these!
For allergy sufferers at least, things have improved slightly in recent years – serious allergens such as nuts, soy, shellfish and gluten must now be identified on the label. At least people at risk of anaphylactic reactions are better protected than they used to be. The situation is rather grim for anyone who reacts to something that’s not on the list, though.
So here is my question – what advantage does our society gain from valuing trade secrets over health? Call me naive, but I’d have thought our legal system (and our system of government, for that matter – stop laughing, you!) should be about protecting people. Not about maximizing company profits. But tell that to James Hardie and sufferers of asbestosis or mesothelioma.
Sometimes I wonder how we went so astray, I really do.