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Russell Wangersky: The politics of marketing

A golden brown king crab (fomerly just a brown king crab) . — Boris Kasimov photo via Flickr
A golden brown king crab (fomerly just a brown king crab) . — Boris Kasimov photo via Flickr - Submitted

Friday was a historic day for the English language. Or for the brown king crab — no, sorry, for the golden king crab. (I’ll explain.)

On Friday, May 4, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally, grudgingly, renamed the brown king crab as the golden king crab, giving processors until January 2020 to phase out existing stock and labels.

It’s been a long road.

There have been petitions and letter-writing campaigns, all arguing that the name golden king crab was already in common use, and that officially allowing the name change would help to market the species.

Think about it: what’s tastier? Brown french fries, or golden french fries?

Forget about Shakespeare and roses smelling as sweet regardless of their names, as per “Romeo and Juliet.”

After all, this crab is neither a Romeo nor a Juliet, that’s for certain. It looks like most king crabs — so, one of a collection of big, gangly hard-shelled ocean spiders — but the golden king crab is festooned with spines on pretty much every square inch of its shell. Hence, perhaps, the “spinus” in its full scientific name, Lithodes aequispinus, (which is not changing).

But the FDA didn’t seem to want to make the change — at least, not until last year’s U.S. federal appropriations bill, an omnibus bill that apparently allows legislators plenty of room to address pet concerns.

On page 117 of the 1,665-page bill is one line changing the name. It’s a line of text apparently added to meet the needs of one particular Alaskan senator.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Facebook page last November — after the budget bill passed — read: “Happy to report the FDA officially changed the acceptable market name of brown king crab to golden king crab, as it is commonly called throughout Alaska. I worked to secure language that amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to update the FDA’s seafood list to assist with golden king crab marketing. Alaskans have been fighting for this name change for years. I’m glad to finally update the name and to be a part of supporting the needs of our state’s world class fishing industry.”

Gosh, doesn’t that just sound like every single politician who ever took the credit for something?

The actual text of the 33-word “Crab Nomenclature Amendment”? “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, for purposes of applying the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.), the acceptable market name of Lithodes aequispinus is ‘golden king crab.’”

Now, just imagine how many 33-word small, navel-gazing changes can be inserted into a 1,665- page budget bill.

Nearby, for example, is a clause that puts this restriction on the FDA: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Food and Drug Administration to develop, issue, promote, or advance any regulations applicable to food manufacturers for population-wide sodium reduction actions or to develop, issue, promote or advance final guidance applicable to food manufacturers for long term population-wide sodium reduction actions until the date on which a dietary reference intake report with respect to sodium is completed.”

Self-interest hides everywhere.

One day, perhaps politicians in the U.S. and Canada will actually simplify budget bills, making them only about funding the works of government, and not salting in everything including the kitchen sink. I’m not holding my breath.

I’m also not holding my breath hoping that one day, we won’t feel we have to give things prettier names to make them more marketable.

Anyhoo, enjoy your golden brown king crab — though I don’t understand why they didn’t cut to the chase and go whole hog, renaming it the “Super Delicious Extreme Supreme Healthy King Crab.” Market that!

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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