Various flavors of Dannon's Fruit on the Bottom line of yogurts, along with certain varieties of its Greek yogurt line Oikos, contain an additive that's made from the crushed up bodies of cochineal beetles, one U.S. nonprofit group says.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) alleges that Dannon's strawberry, cherry, boysenberry, and raspberry flavors of its Fruit on the Bottom line yogurt all contain carmine, an insect-based color additive that gives the yogurt its brilliant red and pink color. Also containing carmine are the strawberry flavor Oikos yogurt, the pomegranate berry flavor of Dannon's Light and Fit line, the blueberry flavor of its Light and Fit: Greek line, along with several flavors of its Activia brand yogurt.

Health Risks

CSPI argues that the unknown presence of carmine in these yogurts could pose serious risks to people with allergies or other dietary restrictions, such as vegetarians. However, Dannon's senior director of public relations, Michael J. Neuwirth, argued that the company has always been transparent about its ingredients.

"Any of our products that contain carmine clearly list it as an ingredient," he told the Huffington Post. "Anyone who wishes to avoid it can." He also added that those with dietary restrictions and allergies are accustomed to reading ingredient lists.

CSPI Executive Director, Michael F. Jacobson, questioned Dannon's commitment to using carmine, wondering why the company insists on using the controversial additive instead of a potentially safer, less offensive plant-based coloring agent.

"I have nothing against people who eat insects, but when I buy strawberry yogurt I'm expecting yogurt and strawberries, and not red dye made from bugs," Jacobson said in a press release. "Given the fact that it causes allergic reactions in some people, and that it's easy to use safer, plant-based colors, why would Dannon use it at all? Why risk offending vegetarians and grossing out your other customers?"

CSPI added that Dannon already uses plant-based colors, such as purple carrot juice, in its line of Danimals line of yogurt marketed toward children.

Carmine: What It Is, Where It's Found

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently classifies carmine as a natural coloring agent, which means it's exempt from needing certification. Carmine also appears in various cosmetic products, most commonly lipstick.

In 2009, CSPI first petitioned the FDA to include carmine on the list of ingredients for products containing the insect extract. The FDA accepted the petition and must now comply with the mandate. However, CSPI's ultimate goal is erasing the extract's use altogether.

CSPI has had a storied history with keeping companies honest. Last year, it targeted Starbucks for using carmine in their Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino and strawberry-flavored smoothies. The end result saw Starbucks swapping carmine for lycopene, a tomato-based extract. However, by the spring of 2014, Starbucks announced Tuesday that the company will start carrying Dannon Greek-style parfaits.

Meanwhile, Neuwirth said the carmine-based recipes haven't been finalized. He gave no indication whether the end product would contain the extract. CSPI would like to forestall any controversy by vetoing its use immediately.

"The only way people can determine that they are sensitive to them is to suffer repeated reactions, including potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions," CSPI stated in a press release. "Also, the FDA should have required labels to disclose that carmine and cochineal are extracted from insects, which many consumers-including vegetarians, Jews, and Muslims-would be interested to know."