Are Eggs Essential to Mayonnaise?

business_ethics_highlights_2The headline is perhaps misleading (because the FDA’s aim isn’t to bar the product from market, so much as to bar the product from being called mayonnaise), but this story is good fodder for a discussion of the benefits and the pitfalls of regulatory standardization of products. Are eggs an essential feature of mayonnaise such that to call an eggless spread ‘mayonnaise’ is misleading to consumers, or is it instead a pretext for protecting incumbent mayonnaise marketers from (eggless) competition? (The same battle is being played out over use of the term ‘bourbon’ to describe majority-corn whiskey products. Federal regulations demand that bourbon be aged only in charred, new oak barrels. But some upstarts want to call their corn whiskey, aged in used oak barrels, bourbon.) >>>

LINK: The American Egg Board Wanted To Take Down Eggless Just Mayo (by Laura Northrup in Consumerist)

Food companies work together under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create promotional campaigns that promote whole categories of products. You’ve seen their broadcast and print ads: campaigns for pork (“The Other White Meat”) and liquid milk (“Got Milk?”) really captured the public imagination, sometimes to the point that it led to litigation. Yet it’s the American Egg Board that’s behind both the “incredible, edible egg” campaigns) and an effort to keep vegan mayonnaise out of stores.

The product, Just Mayo, has been in the news recently because of a warning letter sent by a different government food-regulating agency, the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA’s concern is that the company is calling its product “mayo,” when the official FDA definition of “mayonnaise” is that it must contain eggs. The agency also objected to some health claims about the product.

What do you think?

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  1. Relatedly: In Israel, Heinz ketchup apparently can’t be marketed as ketchup, because the % of tomato paste in it is too low for Israeli standards.
    “In a world where Heinz can’t be called ketchup, what do food labels really mean anyway?”

  2. Francis Bellamy

    Why should corporate labelling constitute the naming of record? Should Coca “Cola” become once again a medical elixir based on company fable or should the public demand accountability, imperfectly, through regulation?

  3. With a few obvious exceptions related to safety, why should there BE a naming of record? Note that among producers and consumers of vegan mayo, the lines of communication are perfectly clear. No one is being deceived. (Compare: I regularly buy veggie “bacon.” Should this be forbidden too, for lack of pork content?)

  4. Francis Bellamy

    The corporate labelling is de facto the naming of record. Your safety exception is potentially expansive, though. Those with particular allergies need certainty that the product contains customary and predictable ingredients.

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