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What’s That Glaze on Your Vitamins?

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Laccifer lacca is a small insect about the size and color of an apple seed, which swarms on certain trees in India and Thailand. During the larval stage of its life-cycle, the lac insect creates a hard, waterproof, communal protective shell as a cocoon in which to mature and then mate.

The encrusted resin that forms this shell is scraped off the branches where the insects nest. This raw material, known as ‘sticklac’, as well as being the basis for shellac, is also used for the production of ‘lac dye’, a red pigment from the crushed bodies of the insects, much like cochineal or carmine. If lac dye is the primary product being made, the lac resin is harvested before the males have emerged from their cocoons, and the sticklac is dried in the sun to kill the beetles.

As well as being a traditional cosmetic in India, lac dye is primarily used to dye leather, silk and wool. However, it is also used as a coloring in some foods and soft drinks. According to one manufacturer’s website, “Lac dye can be used in juice drinks, carbonated drinks, wine, candy, jam and sauce.”

Some sources say that approximately 300,000 lac insects are killed to produce 1kg of lac, and that annual production is estimated at 20,000 tons globally. The main importers of lac products are Egypt, Germany, Indonesia, Italy and the United States.

Image: thanunkorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Angel Flinn

Angel Flinn is Director of Outreach for Gentle World a non-profit educational organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making the transition.

81 comments

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12:16AM PDT on Oct 25, 2013

thanks for sharing

6:52PM PST on Nov 12, 2011

Interesting and informative, should I mourn the insect?

4:09PM PDT on Aug 14, 2011

very nice

10:56AM PDT on Aug 13, 2011

That was enlightening!

11:38AM PDT on Aug 12, 2011

hmmm

1:00PM PDT on Aug 11, 2011

Thanks Lynda

I should have posted that. I laughed myself silly when when I 1st read it. The farmers in India are brilliant.

4:38AM PDT on Aug 11, 2011

it is good some people "care" about insects. to me, it seems animal rights people only care for cute mammals.

12:13AM PDT on Aug 11, 2011

I am speechless. Still trying to ... digest... the info.

Can you pls list the sources, where you find all this info?

whew!

7:36PM PDT on Aug 10, 2011

It isn't any worse than what's in most of the packaged food on the store shelves: hair, feathers, wood pulp, more bugs, all by another name. But, uh, yum. And I agree with Sue Horwood. Corn and its derivatives...what a horror. It's in everything and it's not fun if you can't tolerate it.

7:13PM PDT on Aug 10, 2011

Sharon, there is no need to be alarmed. Despite the emotion-manipulative wording in this article, the insects are NOT killed. The “bug parts” are from lac bugs that have died of natural causes or from other insects who have entered the sticklac tunnel, and they are filtered out, along with bark fibres, through natural cotton fabric. The lac bug is NOT crushed up for dye: many trees that it feeds on have highly-coloured sap. It is in the best interests of the people of India and Thailand to keep the insects alive, as a dead insect will produce no income.

For anyone interested in the facts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shellac

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