Lawrence LeBlond for RedOrbit.com
UPDATE: March 9, 2012 3:00 p.m Eastern.
Reports that were originally received from various media outlets stating that Coca-Cola was changing its formula to avoid adding cancer warning labels to its beverages are false.
In a statement posted on its website today, Coca-Cola said that it is in fact not changing its world-famous formula.
“The caramel color in all of our products has been, is and always will be safe, and The Coca-Cola Company is not changing the world-famous formula for our Coca-Cola beverages. Over the years, we have updated our manufacturing processes from time to time, but never altered our Secret Formula,” Coca-Cola said on its website.
The No. 1 soft drink maker said they have asked its caramel suppliers to modify their production process to reduce the amount of 4-MI in the caramel, but that it will not have any effect on the formula or the flavor of its products. “These modifications will not affect the color or taste of Coca-Cola,” it said.
The company added it is committed to the “highest quality and safety” of its products, and it will “continue to rely on sound, evidence-based science to ensure that our products are safe.”
A specific caramel coloring found in Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and other popular soft drinks that a consumer watchdog said contain high levels of a chemical linked to cancer in animals has now been deemed safe by US regulators.
Despite this, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola both decided to adjust the formula of their caramel coloring across the US so they do not have to label their products with a cancer warning to comply with additional regulations enforced in California.
The recipe has already been changed for drinks sold in the Golden State and the companies said the changes will be expanded nationwide to streamline their manufacturing processes.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reported earlier this week that it found the unsafe levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MI) — used to make caramel color — in cans of Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and Whole Foods´ 365 Cola.
Coca-Cola confirmed that changes were being made at its facilities to keep within the law but argued that the CSPI´s allegations on the dangers the ingredient posed on humans were false.
“The company has made the decision to ask its caramel suppliers to make the necessary manufacturing process modification, to meet the specific Californian legislation,” A spokesperson for Coca-Cola told Daily Mail Online. “Those modifications will not change our product.”
California added 4-MI to its list of carcinogens, after studies showed high levels of the chemical led to tumors in lab animals. However, the studies were inconclusive on whether the chemical was dangerous to humans or not.
“Caramel is a perfectly safe ingredient and this has been recognized by all European food safety authorities,” the spokesperson added. “The 4-MEI levels in our products pose no health or safety risks. Outside of California, no regulatory agency concerned with protecting the public´s health has stated that 4-MEI is a human carcinogen.”
“The caramel color in all of our ingredients has been, is and always will be safe. That is a fact,” the spokesperson said.
This had been the CSPI´s second go-around with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the dangers of 4-MI in soft drinks. It first petitioned the regulator last year, but the FDA has continually maintained that the claims were exaggerated.
“It is important to understand that a consumer would have to consume well over a thousand cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered in the studies that have shown links to cancer in rodents,” said FDA spokesman, Doug Karas to the Daily Mail’s Laura Pullman.
CSPI maintains that the regulator is allowing soft drink companies to needlessly expose millions of Americans to a chemical that is known to cause cancer.
“If companies can make brown food coloring that is carcinogen-free, the industry should use it,” CSPI´s executive director Michael Jacobson told Reuters.
The FDA said it will review the watchdog´s petition, but that the soft drinks in question were still safe.
CSPI took cans from stores in the Washington DC area, where they found some had levels of 4-MI near 140 micrograms per 12-ounce can. California has a legal limit of 29 micrograms of 4-MI per 12 ounces, it noted.
The FDA´s limit for 4-MI in caramel coloring is 250 parts per million (ppm). Once the caramel is mixed in with the soda it becomes diluted. According to calculations by Reuters, the highest levels of 4-MI found in the soft drinks were about 0.4 ppm, significantly within the safe zone.
“This is nothing more than CSPI scare tactics,” the American Beverage Association (ABA) told Reuters in a statement. “In fact, findings of regulatory agencies worldwide … consider caramel coloring safe for use in foods and beverages.”
ABA said its member companies will continue to caramel coloring in certain products but that adjustments were being made to meet California requirements. “Consumers will notice no difference in our products and have no reason at all for any health concerns,” the ABA said.
Diana Garza-Ciarlante, a representative for Coca-Cola, said its suppliers would modify the manufacturing process used to reduce the levels of 4-MI, which is formed during the cooking process and as a result may be found in trace amounts in many foods.
“While we believe that there is no public health risk that justifies any such change, we did ask our caramel suppliers to take this step so that our products would not be subject to the requirement of a scientifically unfounded warning,” she said in an email to The Telegraph.
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