Today's leading cola beverages contain high levels of a substance linked to cancer in animals, according to new research.
An independent study commissioned by the Center for Science in the Public Interest
(CSPI) uncovered 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MI, in Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi at levels 4.8 times greater than those allowed in beverages in California.
4-MI is a byproduct of the reaction that produces the caramel coloring in brown sodas. The chemical has been found to be carcinogenic in animal studies.
The state of California has banned 4-MI in any amount that could potentially lead to one cancer case in 100,000 people. However the levels found in these 4 leading Cola brands indicated a lifetime risk of 5 cancers out of 100,000, assuming that people drink one soft drink per day. That risk rises to 10 cancers out of 100,000 people who drink only soft drinks containing caramel coloring.
The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets an even more conservative risk limit for contaminant in food additives of 1 cancer in 1,000,000 people. But the study reported rates of 4-MI that are associated with 48 cancers in 1,000,000.
"Coke and Pepsi, with the acquiescence of the FDA, are needlessly exposing millions of Americans to a chemical that causes cancer," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "The coloring is completely cosmetic, adding nothing to the flavor of the product. If companies can make brown food coloring that is carcinogen-free, the industry should use that. And industry seems to be moving in that direction. Otherwise, the FDA needs to protect consumers from this risk by banning the coloring."
In a letter
to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg Monday, CSPI shared the results of its study. The document served as an addition to the group's petition of last year, which called on FDA to ban caramel colorings made with processes that generate 2-MI and 4-MI.