National News

Finding the natural in natural flavors

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:39

Unless you grow or hunt all your own food, chances are you've encountered natural flavors in things you eat. According to a study by the Environmental Working Group, "natural flavor" is now the fourth most common ingredient in food after salt, water, and sugar.

So, what are natural flavors? Why are they seemingly in everything? And if they are so natural, why don't ingredient labels list what they are? These questions come from Marketplace listener Jean Beach.

Since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, Beach has been diligently checking ingredient labels. She sees natural flavors everywhere. On the iced tea she drinks, the ingredient list reads water, natural flavors, and then tea, which means there's more natural flavoring in Beach's tea than actual tea.

When it comes to flavors, Lisa Lefferts with the Center for Science in the Public Interest says there are a lot of mysteries, and calls the flavor industry a “big black box.” Lefferts says a flavor ingredient can be some combination of about 2,300 possible substances. 

By reading the ingredient label, customers can tell if the flavor is artificial or natural. Artificial flavors are entirely man-made — chemicals synthesized to deliver a particular taste. Natural flavors are processed from a substance initially found in nature, but those substances can vary widely.

Take castoreum, for instance. “Castoreum is a natural flavor extracted from the anal castor sacs of beavers,” Lefferts says, “and it's used to help create a vanilla or occasionally a fruity taste. So, in other words, vanilla flavor doesn't necessarily come from the vanilla bean.”

Okay, you are probably not eating castoreum, it's expensive and primarily used in fragrances. Most natural flavors come from more obvious sources like herbs and fruit.

The problem Lefferts says, is that flavors are not real food. “The main reason to be concerned about flavors, whether they are natural or artificial, is that when they are in there, you can be pretty sure that something real and nutritious has been left out,” she says.

But raw ingredients can be tricky. They may be expensive, or spoil. In packaged food, they may not even taste right, says John Hallagan. He' s with the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association. Hallagan says “You can't achieve the same flavor sensation from just putting strawberries in a bottle and mixing water in. It's not going to taste like strawberry to you.”

So, companies craft their own strawberry flavors — maybe they mix in a little fruit extract with some compounds processed from other plants, even trees. 

Sue Ebeler, a food scientist and professor at the University of California Davis, says a few drops of the right ingredients can make a big impact on flavor. We're talking about parts per trillion, she says, just a few molecules in an entire swimming pool.

Ebeler says advances in science have helped companies understand which molecules influence taste. A gas chromatograph could break down the flavor components of a substance to help replicate it.

So, why not explain what natural flavors are on ingredient labels? For one thing, Well, companies want to keep their special formulas secret — plus what sounds more appetizing: Things like beaver castor sacs and a long list of chemicals, or natural flavor?

“Putting the word natural anywhere there gives you an aura,” Marsha Cohen says. Cohen is a professor at the UC Hastings College of Law, and says when it comes to selling food, she says, it's all about the aura.

I call Jean Beach back to tell her what I've found out. She's not impressed by the “natural aura."

Beach says she feels less comfortable about natural flavors, and would like to avoid them altogether. Problem is, they're in so many things.

Parents Choose A Simple Device To Reshape A Baby's Ear

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:07

Sometimes a baby's outer ear may be a tad misshapen. Surgery can help later on, but a plastic mold makes the most of the fact that a newborn's ears are pliable. They can reshape within weeks.

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Parents Choose A Simple Device To Reshape A Baby's Ear

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:07

Sometimes a baby's outer ear may be a tad misshapen. Surgery can help later on, but a plastic mold makes the most of the fact that a newborn's ears are pliable. They can reshape within weeks.

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Your Wallet: What's broken in your community?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 09:05

This week we want to know about infrastructure in your community. How are your sidewalks, bridges, or hospitals?

Talk to us the way you might in a town hall. What's broken in your community, in your home, and what's stopping the fix?

Is it money?

We want to hear you stories. Send us an email, or reach us on Twitter, @MarketplaceWKND

John Boehner doesn't enjoy congressmen wearing jeans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:53

Speaker of the House John Boehner, second in line for the presidency, is not at all happy with the way things are going in Congress.

No, not the whole gridlock thing.

Let's just say there's no such thing as casual Friday in Congress. Boehner gave a dress code reminder during the last votes Wednesday.

"Members should wear appropriate attire during all sittings of the House however brief their appearances on the floor may be," he said, according to the Hill. "You know who you are."

Boehner also reiterated House rules against taking photos, and reminded lawmakers to show up for votes on time.

No word about bringing snowballs in the chamber though. 

John Boehner doesn't congressmen wearing jeans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:53

Speaker of the House John Boehner, second in line for the presidency, is not at all happy with the way things are going in Congress.

No, not the whole gridlock thing.

Let's just say there's no such thing as casual Friday in Congress. Boehner gave a dress code reminder during the last votes Wednesday.

"Members should wear appropriate attire during all sittings of the House however brief their appearances on the floor may be," he said, according to the Hill. "You know who you are."

Boehner also reiterated House rules against taking photos, and reminded lawmakers to show up for votes on time.

No word about bringing snowballs in the chamber though. 

Fun Fact Friday: It's a soupy mess

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:53

Cardiff Garcia from the blog FT Alphaville and Linette Lopez from Business Insider wrap up the week in news. What's more? Some fun facts to hold you over through the weekend.

Fun fact: Campbell reported a less-than-impressive second-quarter profit of $312 million

The soup company warned investors in advance that the number was going to be low given the strong dollar. However, future plans to restructure the company may be an inclination as to why their profits were down this time around.

Campbell tries a new recipe for success

Fun fact: Pebble Time broke a Kickstarter record by raising over $10 million in just two days.

Pebble's new wearable faces heavy competition from the Apple Watch. If you're curious, the record-breaking Kickstarter company isn't bothered.

Pebble Time breaks Kickstarter's record

Fun fact: Baltimore has embarked on a $1.5 billion program to replace and rebuild it's sewage system.

Our month-long water series, Water: The Price of Cheap, has come to an end, but the #WaterLog problems are still here. This week we visited Baltimore Harbor, once considered "the toilet of the city," and uncovered it's host city's lengthy history with an ageing sewage system.

Baltimore sewers: time bombs buried under the streets

Fun fact: Since July 2013, San Diego County Office of Education has spent nearly $900,000 on computers, printers and software for its secure juvenile facilities.

It's taken a significant culture shift to get the kids incarcerated in the San Diego Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility modern technology required for learning in this digital age. And the benefits have exceeded all possible belief. 

Unlocking the digital classroom for kids in lock up

Tallying the economic winners of the status quo

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:53

Senator Jim Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor on Thursday, to show in his words that global warming is a “hoax,” and stands as the latest example of policy gridlock on this topic. 

But paralysis does not mean all economic actors stand still. Incumbent sectors win, in this case, fossil fuels.

Andy Hoffman of the University of Michigan says climate change “represents a market shift. Some will win, some will lose. Keeping things confused, that’s how you create paralysis.”

Creating paralysis is an active process, says Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes. “A whole network of people who have worked for more than twenty years now to prevent action, because action threatens their interests and it also threatens their ideology," he says. 

Record industry fights piracy with new global release day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:53

Record companies typically release new albums on different days of the week, based on what country you live in. In the United States it's Tuesday, in Germany it's Friday and in England, it's Monday. 

In a move to cut down on illegal file-sharing between countries, the music industry is now setting on a standard global release day, Friday, which is expected to go into effect later this summer.

But, if there is one thing we know about consumers, it’s that they want what they want and they want it now — and that goes triple for music.

“In that age of social media there is an obvious consumer frustration, when a consumer knows that maybe a big release has been made in one country but they can't get it in another,” says Adrian Strain, a spokesman for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a trade group representing record labels. 

He points out that a common release day would cut down on piracy, as well as appeal to would-be customers.

“You know we did some consumer research in seven countries, and we found that when music fans are asked when they want music to come out, they say Friday or Saturday,” says Strain.

But lately, the 'release day rule' has already lost favor. Taylor Swift released her new album, "1989," on a Monday to boost first-week sales.

The fact that the industry is still playing by the 20th Century rules and worrying about release dates should give you an indication of where their heads are at,” says Greg Kot.

Kot covers music for the Chicago Tribune in addition to co-hosts the radio program, Sound Opinions on WBEZ. He says release dates are a throwback to the days when record labels would promote new albums months in advance to drive physical sales, which are less important in the iTunes era.

“Increasingly you're seeing artists, even veteran artists like David Bowie to Beyoncé to Drake, who are relatively new artists, are doing this, where they're basically just putting records out when they're done,” says Kot.

Kot says having a common release could make it easier to manage global marketing campaigns for certain mega stars, but for most artists the calendar just doesn’t matter

What net neutrality might mean for 'House of Cards'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:52

The FCC issued its much-awaited ruling on net neutrality Thursday, declaring that broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon have to treat all internet users the same. What does this decision mean for content providers like Netflix?

As of 3 a.m. Friday, season three of "House of Cards" was available for streaming, all 13 hours of it, ready for weekend binge watching.  But should that video start to shudder or buffer,  it can be tough for consumers to know why.  

“What the FCC is doing is saying for the very first time, ‘We’re going to be looking hard' at what broadband providers are doing to squeeze the connection between their own networks and outside networks,” says Susan Crawford, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard.

In other words: “There’s a cop on the beat now.”

Crawford views this increased regulation as a win for consumers, but Richard Bennett, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, thinks if the FCC’s reporting requirements are too burdensome, it could slow the rate at which internet service providers are able to grow their networks.

Tech IRL: Is the Snapchat party over?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:46

Snapchat has come under scrutiny since it was first introduced. Critics called the disappearing-photos app scandalous, then swaths of tech writers emerged to say they were too old to use it — they didn't understand Snapchat. 

Who did understand? Young people. Snapchat's largest consumer base is between 13 and 25, and is primarily female. Millennials use Snapchat in many of the same ways they use other messaging services: texts, Whatsapp, etc. And Snapchat has proven itself to be adaptable. It introduced the Discover feature, which allows brands to create updates accessible to the entire user base of the app. It added Snapcash, a service that lets users send each other money. 

Still, skeptics wonder if Snapchat's high valuations and aggressive investment plans are misplaced — a bubble bound to burst, a party doomed to end — worrying that increased accessibility and a better user interface could potentially alienate Snapchat's core users, who might move on to the next big thing. 

To learn more about how Millennials use Snapchat and why it might be more valuable than it seems, Marketplace Weekend spoke to Marketplace Tech producer Meg Cramer, who says she uses Snapchat more than she texts. So what's the appeal of Snapchat? Cramer says that if Facebook is like your high school reunion, Snapchat is a VIP room. 

Tune in to the whole interview in the player above.
To check out the behind the scenes creation of the expert snap in the segment photo, listen below:

Mexico Says Leader Of Knights Templar Cartel Captured

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:38

Authorities say they have detained Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, one of the most wanted men in the country.

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Mexico Says Leader Of Knights Templar Cartel Captured

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:38

Authorities say they have detained Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, one of the most wanted men in the country.

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Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock On 'Star Trek,' Dies At 83

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:37

The cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, told The New York Times.

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Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock On 'Star Trek,' Dies At 83

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:37

The cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, told The New York Times.

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U.S. Biologists Keen To Explore, Help Protect Cuba's Wild Places

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:11

Birders especially know that Cuba harbors hundreds of rarely seen, little-studied species. As the island nation opens to more U.S. visitors, scientists hope "green Cuba" can survive increased tourism.

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U.S. Biologists Keen To Explore, Help Protect Cuba's Wild Places

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 08:11

Birders especially know that Cuba harbors hundreds of rarely seen, little-studied species. As the island nation opens to more U.S. visitors, scientists hope "green Cuba" can survive increased tourism.

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Fines Remain Rare Even As Health Data Breaches Multiply

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 07:16

Since 2009, a federal watchdog has levied only 22 penalties against health care organizations for failing to safeguard information about patients.

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Fines Remain Rare Even As Health Data Breaches Multiply

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 07:16

Since 2009, a federal watchdog has levied only 22 penalties against health care organizations for failing to safeguard information about patients.

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A Glut Of Ph.D.s Means Long Odds Of Getting Jobs

NPR News - Fri, 2015-02-27 07:08

Only one in five Ph.D.s in science, engineering and health end up with faculty teaching or research positions within five years of completing their degrees. But universities keep churning them out.

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