The former USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety, Dr. Richard Raymond, lives just down the road a piece. He’s always good for pointing out something we’ve missed, or setting us straight, or both. He recently called out the latest Food Demand Survey conducted by Food and Agriculture Economist Jayson Lusk at Oklahoma State University. As a drop-in question to OSU’s periodic consumer survey on how much people are willing to pay for various cuts of beef and pork, Dr. Lusk asked how many supported “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA.” More than 80 percent did. And why not? DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is pretty scary stuff. OSU even came up with the label to satisfy these demands. The warning label might read something like this: “Caution: Product contains DNA. Mothers may pass DNA on to their children, affecting their gender, hair color, and high cholesterol levels.” Some simple “Ban DNA” bumper stickers would also be good. It reminds me of one of the classic hoaxes of all time when students at the University of Southern California signed up in droves for a campaign to “ban dihydrogen monoxide.” A couple of laugh-out-loud examples, however, does not mean that scientific ignorance isn’t able to carry the day, or at least most days. Panera’s “No No” list announced last week may be an example of that. It read like anything with a multiple-part, scientific-sounding name got put on the “No No” list. Panera’s goal is pretty transparent — get rid of ingredients with “chemical”-sounding names and finding replacements that sound “fresh.” And who can blame them? Last year, the whitening agent azodicarbonamide, long viewed as safe in baking by FDA, was dropped from Subway products after one of those runaway Internet campaigns said the chemical was also used in (oh, the humanity!) yoga mats. Had all the Internet minions known that dihydrogen monoxide is used to make both bread and yoga mats, who knows what have happened? But when Subway folded, most others in the so-called “fresh” market went looking at their flavors, artificial colors, preservatives and the like to determine what should be removed or replaced. Panera went public with their list, but it’s a good bet that all others in the “fresh” market are doing the same thing. Science has little, if anything, to do with it. But I am wondering if there won’t be some unintended consequences down the road. “Fresh” is a good marketing word, but “raw” is the appropriate translation for food safety purposes. Raw sprouts, for example, have caused far more than their share of illnesses and deaths. Then, by chance, I heard a panel discussion on one of those business stations with the market data running across the bottom of the screen about Panera’s “No No” list. I was surprised to hear these restaurant business experts talking about spoilage. They said every restaurant chain has spoilage costs, and they speculated that Panera was going to accept more spoilage by throwing preservatives overboard. They said the question for would-be investors is whether increased sales will be enough to offset more spoilage. It was an interesting discussion for such an action on the “fresh” front. I am assuming that by “increased spoilage costs” these restaurant chain stock-pickers mean food that goes bad before it’s sold. If it goes bad after the sale, what difference does it make to their bottom line? As a consumer, I am an example of a completely different demand. I want to buy stuff and not have it go bad for a long time. I hate it when I mistakenly purchase an “organic” loaf of bread only to have it turn way too quickly into a big bag of mold. And I am more than a little concerned about flavors and colors being tossed. There are some things — something like mac and cheese comes to mind — that must have the exact right color or I ain’t going to go there. And, when it comes to taste, do food companies know enough not to mess with flavors? Guess the guys in the test kitchens have their work cut out for them. The fact that science ain’t winning does not mean that restaurants and grocery stores should not be free to do what they think they should do to build markets for their products. It was not fair to aspartame, which got a clean billing not long ago from another round of scientific panels in Europe, to just get dumped by Pepsi. But Pepsi made a business decision to make a change based on what’s in the heads of their consumers, not what in aspartame. Change is risky. Pepsi has much at risk in that it must keep its loyal consumers happy while making the change. It does not always work; check out what happened with New Coke. It’s too bad that consumer trends like these are not taking on pathogens in food. Pathogens come with some long, scientific-sounding names that should be scary enough to Internet denizens that industry would want to go public with plans to protect us from foodborne illnesses. Now that would be a fresh approach!