Coca-Cola has hit back at claims from a consumer watchdog group that the food additive used to give its products their familiar brown color causes cancer.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the use of caramel coloring in popular soft drinks, noting the compounds used to create it had been shown to cause lung, liver and thyroid cancer in mice and rats.
Those compounds (2-methylimidazole (2-MEI) and 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI)) form when sugar is mixed with ammonia and sulfites. It sounds blegh but it tastes delicious. Or, anyway, it looks delicious. Or, anyway, it looks brown.
In 2011, California lawmakers determined that the coloring substance known 4-MEI qualified as a carcinogen and ruled that companies using that particular coloring would either have to change their formula or print cancer warning labels on their products.
According to the CSPI, recent lab analyses showed that 4-MEI, levels in many 12-ounce servings of soda exceeded the 29 microgram limit recommended by the state of California by nearly five times.
A representative for Coca-Cola responded that the science cited by the CSPI was inconclusive, stating
“The body of science about 4-MEI in foods or beverages does not support the erroneous allegations that CSPI would like the public to believe. The 4-MEI levels in our products pose no health or safety risks.”
However, the company has decided to modify its manufacturing process so as to avoid having to slap cancer warnings on all of its bottles and cans.
FDA spokesman Douglas Karas noted that a human 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.