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Drug firms - the next food barons?

The nutrient-disease relationship grows stronger each day with every new study purporting a link between dietary factors and health. Recently, scientists at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine isolated a chemical--sulforaphane--from broccoli that bolsters the production of "good" enzymes for neutralizing some carcinogens.

On March 30th, the front-page headline of the Chicago Tribune declared "New focus on diet in war on cancer--Battle shifts to nutrition, prevention."

The article went on to say that the American Cancer Society is shifting major resources toward cancer prevention through dietary modifications.

This shift is based, in part, on promising research--sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and others--which suggests that some foods and food compounds may prevent certain cancers.

Interlacing of diet, nutrition, and health has manifested itself in the "eating healthy" trend. "Healthy" brand names have pervaded every nook and cranny of the supermarket.

The eating healthy movement has spawned a new class of foods called nutraceuticals, pharmafoods, or functional foods. Nutraceuticals are defined as any food or part of a food that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention or treatment of disease.

Many proponents of nutraceuticals believe that the recent health claims proposals are too restrictive. Currently, FDA will only allow health claim relationships for sodium and hypertension, calcium and osteoporosis, fat and cardiovascular disease, and fat and cancer.

Other food industry watchers view the health claims proposals in a positive light. They look upon the proposed rules as a framework for companies to conduct research, substantiate label claims, and market their products.

Whether the rules prove to be a hindrance or aid to nutraceuticals is unclear. However, one thing is certain--the link between diet and health is securely fastened.

Will this link become a fusion? And who will provide these next-generation of "therapeutic" foods that taste like Grandma's cooking and cures whatever ails you?

The answer to the first question is affirmative. As the U.S. population ages, consumers with spending power will be scurrying for foods that promote health and well-being. The answer to the second question is more fuzzy, but one plausible scenario could involve drug companies galloping to the forefront of the food industry.

Before you scoff at the notion of the Pharmaceutical Powerhouses becoming the next food barons, please remember the impact the Tobacco Titans have had on the food industry.

Drug companies are uniquely qualified and positioned to move into the food arena. They know consumer marketing, they're experts in sanitary processes, and they possess eminent brands.

How about some Tylenol bran muffins? Before belittling this concept, take a look at the explosion of food products bearing the Ultra Slim Fast brand from Thompson Medical.

Historically, drug companies spend more than food companies on research. With deeper pockets, drug firms may be more inclined to conduct the clinical studies to support new health claim proposals.

On the downside, pharmaceutical manufacturers may be dissuaded from entering the food market because of its lower profit margins. However, foods with a health benefit would likely command premium prices.

There are already rumblings of drug companies crossing into the food field. Recently, Sterling Health signed an agreement with Ryan Milk (division of Dean Foods) to market Dairy Ease milk for lactose-intolerant consumers. Oh, and by the way, Sterling Health is a division of Sterling Winthrop--makers of Bayer aspirin and Phillips' Milk of Magnesia.

Some food companies, ingredient suppliers, and pharmaceutical firms dabble in both food and drugs. They include Warner-Lambert, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, and Monsanto just to name a few. If their food groups aren't talking to their drug units, it might be wise to start.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Swientek, Bob
Publication:Food Processing
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 1, 1992
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