(NaturalNews) A study from Consumer Reports has revealed that the caramel coloring substance used to give many soft drinks its brown color could contain a harmful carcinogenic chemical called 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI.
4-MEI is a by-product in the making of caramel coloring, although it is not in all caramel coloring and the amounts could vary across different drinks and even across different batches of the same drink. Its levels vary depending on how the caramel coloring is manufactured and also on who the supplier of the compound is.
4-MEI is a carcinogenic substance to humans. Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist who had led the study, said it "definitely causes cancer in animal studies. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has also classified 4-MEI as a possible human carcinogen." The state of California includes it on the state list of carcinogens, too.
In fact, California has also mandated that any food or beverage which has more than 29 micrograms of 4-MEI has to carry cancer warning labels. There are, however, no such federal requirements in the US. Thus, the only way to guard against 4-MEI is to look out for the presence of the caramel coloring.
The caramel coloring does not actually provide any flavor - its use is purely for visual purposes. As such, potential exposure to 4-MEI is quite pointless. Indeed, "there is no need for consumers to be exposed to this avoidable and unnecessary risk," added Dr Rangan.
Details of the study
Consumer Reports had looked at samples from 12 different soft drinks which were bought at different times over a period of nine months in California and New York. They discovered that two of the drinks - Pepsi One and Malta Goya - had levels of 4-MEI which were higher than what was permitted.
"Coke came in at a negligible cancer level at one can of Coke. That said, we found other manufacturers - like Pepsi - really quite a lot higher than Coke. Malta Goya, which is a Hispanic soft drink, was actually at 300 or more micrograms per 12-ounce serving," said Dr. Rangan.
The company for Malta Goya declined comment when contacted by CBS. Pepsi, on the other hand, issued a response, stating that the average amount of diet soda people consumed was only 100 ml, and while a full can of the beverage (about 300 ml) would breach the California limit, 100 ml would not. For this reason, they argued that their drink would not need to carry cancer warnings.
In light of the study, Consumers Union is pushing for warning labels to be placed on any products which contain more than the accepted amounts of chemicals, among other measures, to help protect consumers.
The study report also recommended that chemicals which are artificially added to foods and beverages should have a maximum limit and mandated labeling.
Further, the report has suggested for the FDA to bar products which contain caramel coloring to carry the "natural" label; at the moment, any drink which is stated to be "natural" could still contain caramel coloring.
The FDA has said that it is reviewing the safety of using caramel coloring in soft drinks and other food products. According to them, they have studied the health effects of caramel coloring for years and have found it to be safe in general, but they are looking further into the matter, conducting tests on various food products, including soft drinks.
If you or your family are frequent consumers of soft drinks, please take note of this information. In any case, with easily 40 grams of sugar in a can of soda, soft drinks are not exactly the best choice of beverage for the health conscious, with or without the caramel coloring and 4-MEI.