A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how misinformation has real potential to harm the nascent cultivated meat industry. As it turns out, meat grown in bioreactors is not the only food tech-related misinformation floating around nowadays.
Over the last couple of weeks, viral media posts have circulated about the fresh produce life extension coating made by Apeel. These tweets and posts often reference Bill Gates’ investment in the company and present a mix of conspiracy theories ranging from claims that the Apeel coating will make users sick, cause skin or eye damage, or increase the population’s reliance on the pharmaceutical industry.
Some of the early posts pointed to a fact sheet which, according to a fact check by the USA Today, was about an industrial cleaner – also called Apeel – instead of the food coating. But even after it became clear that the warnings in the fact sheet were about a product meant for cleaning floors and not for the Apeel food coating, it didn’t seem to deter some on social media from suggesting the ingredients in the Apeel product were harmful or a part of some weird food control plot by Bill Gates.
The primary active ingredient in the Apeel coating mentioned in the posts is mono- and diglycerides. While there is a legitimate conversation to be had about whether excess mono- and diglycerides in our diets can be harmful, the posts suggest that Apeel’s coating is a danger to all those who consume it, despite the fact the company received a ‘no questions’ GRAS notification from the FDA that the additives are safe for their intended use. The posts also largely ignore that mono- and diglycerides are commonly added to various foods, such as bread, peanut butter, and ice cream, and for products with peels like avocados or bananas, the Apeel coating won’t actually be consumed (unless someone chooses to eat the peels for some reason).
Although this recent surge in misinformation does not seem to have the same potential impact as those surrounding cultivated meat, there is no doubt that it has been a concerning development for Apeel. Food misinformation is widespread today, sometimes due to deliberate efforts by organizations with vested interests in a product, and other times simply because self-proclaimed health or food experts raise the alarm based on something they have seen or read.
Bottom line: as new technologies for food become more commonplace, so will bad information about them. The companies behind these products need to work to educate customers and proactively address the flare-ups in the wild before they start burning out of control.