Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The king is dead

Recently I learned that miraculin, a compound that temporarily alters taste bud receptors, came within a day of being listed by the US FDA as "generally recognized as safe". It had been used before meals in parts of Africa for hundreds of years prior, and without any known cases of related illness.

Then, one day before the safe label was to be given, the FDA decided to treat miraculin as a food additive instead of a food, which barred it from appearing in commercial foods without and additional battery of tests that nobody was prepared to pay for. No reason was given for the change, even after a freedom of information act request.

We live with decision today, and considering obesity related mortality, we die by it too.

If the decision were made today, it seems unlikely that miraculin would have difficulty being listed as a generally safe food ingredient. What's to stop us from reevaluating that decision now by testing miraculin as a food ingredient from scratch? It was never found to be unsafe, so there remains no biological basis for it to not be in foods other than the decisions by men whom have since retired or died.

There are similar legacies scattered through the law, such as in being illegal to wear a mask in a mob, which comes from a law passed more than 100 years ago that nobody had thought to enforce until recently. The legal issues that Tesla Motors currently has getting to market are mostly due to depression era laws pertaining to car dealerships.

This habit of accepting the decisions of the dead is costly. It makes the law more complex than necessary and it hides or hinders ways in which we could improve our society.

I wish there was a think tank of historians whose mission was to dredge up old legal decisions which lack modern relevance. They could bring them to the existing authorities to have them downstruck or updated before they become entangled in modern issues and used for situations that their creators could not have considered in writing the law.