Cancer Causing Chemical Prevalent In Pepsi And Coke Products
March 7, 2012

Cancer Causing Chemical Prevalent In Pepsi And Coke Products

Popular soft-drink products contain levels of a chemical that is a known animal carcinogen, according to new chemical analyses.

The chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MI) was found in Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Diet Coke, and Diet Pepsi after an analyses by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

CSPI said the carcinogen forms when ammonia or ammonia and sulfates are used to manufacture the "caramel coloring" that gives sodas their distinctive brown colors.

The organization asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revoke its authorization for caramel coloring that contains 4-MI, and to change the name of the additive to "ammonia-sulfate process caramel coloring" or "chemically modified caramel coloring."

“Coke and Pepsi, with the acquiescence of the FDA, are needlessly exposing millions of Americans to a chemical that causes cancer,” CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said in a statement. “The coloring is completely cosmetic, adding nothing to the flavor of the product.

During the chemical analyses, CSPI collected samples of Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Diet Dr Pepper, and Whole Foods 365 Cola from Washington D.C.-area stores.

The group said Pepsi's products had 145- to 153-micrograms (mcg) of 4-MI in two 12-ounce cans, while Coca-Cola had between 142- to 146- mcg per 12 ounces in the samples.

The state of California has a 29-microgram limit for 4-MI, and drinks that exceed this number may be required to bear a warning notice.

CSPI estimates that Coke and Pepsi products have caused about 15,000 cancers in the U.S.

"If companies can make brown food coloring that is carcinogen-free, the industry should use that," Jacobson said. "And industry seems to be moving in that direction. Otherwise, the FDA needs to protect consumers from this risk by banning the coloring.”

CSPI said the FDA has an exception for contaminants of food additives if it only causes a risk of one cancer in one million people.  However, even Dr. Pepper and Diet Dr. Pepper having low levels of 4-MI, about 10 mcg per 12 ounces, pose a cancer risk of seven in one million.

"Colorings made with the ammonia or ammonia-sulfite process contain carcinogens and don´t belong in the food supply," Jacobson said. "In any event, they shouldn´t be obscured by such an innocuous-sounding name as ℠caramel coloring."


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