A few weeks ago, Pepsi Co. announced that it would remove aspartame from its diet product lineup and replace it with sucralose. Previously, other companies followed similar decisions to phase out ingredients from their product lineups. General Mills announced that it would phase out the preservative butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) from their cereals, Kraft Inc. announced the removal of artificial dyes and preservatives form their Mac & Cheese products, and Chipotle stated that it would remove all genetically modified foods (GMO) from it’s products.
The question for all this now becomes, why? Why are these huge corporations going through the trouble of removing these ingredients?
Could it be that they figured out they are dangerous? Nope. In the case of Pepsi, although aspartame has been linked to cancer, developmental problems and nervous system effects, the overwhelming majority of the literature has found no significant association between its consumption and any detrimental health effects. In the case of Kraft, the artificial dyes being phased out have been linked to hyperactivity disorders in children, but again these studies have been inconclusive. So, clearly, these corporations did not make the changes out of the goodness of their hearts and out of concern for their customers’ health.
Take Pepsi for example. It’s clear that safety is not the reason for their switch, as most of the literature found that no health effects can be directly attributed to aspartame. The answer may be more simplistic. The declining sales of diet Pepsi products and the poor public perception of aspartame, reported by Beverage Digest, seem less like mere coincidence and more like cause and effect. Pepsi, in all likelihood, made the switch because consumers demanded it.
All this highlights the power that people have over companies. Now, if you ask these companies they will fervently tell you that making these changes was their plan all along. However, it’s easy to see that the threat of losing consumers drove their actions.
So, what does all this mean? What can we learn from Pepsi removing aspartame? I’d sum it up like this: the people hold power. Not just with food companies, but with ANY company. People who are informed act, and their actions matter to corporations. Because although they have the power of money, you have the power of the masses. That’s why CHEJ’s new Leadership Training Academy is going to be invaluable to people from all over the country in the coming years. The ability for young emerging leaders in the environmental justice field to pushing for corporate change will be crucial. With Lois leading the academy, the new generation of leaders can be sure to learn from the best.