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February 18, 2005

For Irene Adler

As promised, the why and wherefore of my asking for people to read the labels of their ketchup bottles. Sadly, the article was not accepted, so, just for Irene:

Stunning news was reported on the 10th Jan, a Senator wants to spend more taxpayer’s money and those it would be spent on are in favor. Quite the man bites dog story don’t you think? That Senator Kit Bond, R-Mo, wants to create a new agricultural research center (The USDA has tentatively named it the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, perhaps at some future date to be called the Bond Center?) and those who do research in the field seem to think well of more money being spent upon them.

It would be churlish to reject any and every idea to spend the nation’s wealth but before deciding to spend more on such research might it not be a good idea to look at how what is already allocated is spent?

One piece * that caught the eye recently was into the lycopene content of tomato ketchup. Lycopene is the chemical that makes tomatoes red and is known to protect against a number of problems including cardiovascular disease, prostate and breast cancers. The measurement of this lifesaver in various brands and types of ketchup would seem sensible, an ideal piece of research for a current part of the USDA. The result announced was that organic brands have more lycopene than others and we could simply nod our heads wisely at this proof of what the campaigners have been telling us, that organic is better for you.

This would be, however, to ignore two important things about science, the first that the questions you don’t ask can be more important than those you do, the second that the reporting of results is of minimal value as compared to the why of those results.The question that was not asked was the tomato content of the ketchups. This might seem fairly simple, lycopene is contained in tomatoes, ketchup contains tomatoes, it isn’t really that much of a stretch to think that more tomatoes means more lycopene. The researchers did not check this. The why is that organic ketchups do indeed use more tomatoes. As they do not use corn syrup to sweeten the mixture, they use more tomatoes, both for their natural sweetness and also because without the syrup something has to go into the bottle. Many regular brands are in the 25-35% range tomato content while one organic brand is 70% tomatoes.

Quite apart from the misleading (although technically, strictly true) conclusion, that organic ketchups are better for you, what we appear to have is a research result that reads: if you put more tomatoes into your product then your product will contain more tomato. Opinions can differ on such matters of course but is everyone certain that this is a result that we needed a Government program to tell us?

Which brings us back to the Good Senator Bond and his plans for another $ 1 billion a year. We could just shrug our shoulders, after all it is only a little over $3 a head per year, or we could ask whether we really need more of this sort of research. When the money we already spend on research provides results that verge on the blindingly obvious, are we certain that we need more of it?


*Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (DOI: 10.1021/jf0401540)

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Comments

In the Good Old Days, we could learn French from the label of our sauce bottle.

Posted by: dearieme | Feb 18, 2005 4:14:28 PM

Maybe it was a different study ,but this one investigated how much lycene there was in various types of tomatoes... Yellow tomatoes had less and deeply red tomatoes had more..

Tim adds: I may have the journal number there wrong. Not too important though....same basic idea. As Lycopene is what makes tomatoes red I would file both reports under the "No, Duh?" label.

Posted by: e m butler | Feb 18, 2005 4:17:11 PM

>Maybe it was a different study ,but this one investigated how much lycene there was in various types of tomatoes... Yellow tomatoes had less and deeply red tomatoes had more..

No, I'm looking at now, and it doesn't talk about this.

The DOI is 10.1021/jf040154o - that's n "o" on the end, not a zero. (The issue is December 2004, v.52, No. 26, pp. 8017-8020).

Posted by: Scott at Blithering Bunny | Feb 18, 2005 5:42:41 PM

A whole post just for the sake of moi? I blush at the undeserved accolade. Am also grateful to have escaped the headline qualifiers usually applied to Our Georges, or Polly Pot, etc., such as "blithering idiot" etc.

Thanks,

IA

Posted by: Irene Adler | Feb 18, 2005 6:59:19 PM

Gimme a break! Do you want authorities to put forward him in a trial? Ha-ha!

Posted by: Mishal | Jan 3, 2006 12:23:46 PM