An environmental group has claimed that the caramel coloring agent used in Pepsi actually contains a threateningly high level of a carcinogen (not the type of substances you want in your body). One of the most disturbing aspects of this situation is that this potential hazard was already brought up to the beverage producer, and Pepsi had promised that it would alter their formula.
In March, both PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. stated that they were going to change their formulas, following a new California law that required a cancer warning label be placed on any beverage that contained a certain level of carcinogens. Once this law was passed, these labels were added to drinks being sold in the state of California.
What is this Dangerous Chemical?
The carcinogenic chemical is 4-methylimidazole, or simply 4-Mel, which can be created during the cooking process. So yes, trace amounts of this chemical can be found in many varieties of food. However, the Center for Environmental Health has discovered that, while Coke products no longer test positive for 4-Mel, Pepsi products sold outside of California still do.
When questioned about this, a spokesman from Pepsi said that its caramel coloring suppliers are currently altering their manufacturing process in order to reduce the amount of 4-Mel in its caramel. So, while the process has been completed in California, it will not be finished nationwide till February 2014. They have also stated that it will be reducing the amount of 4-Mel in their products sold elsewhere in the world, but they did not specify a timeline for that.
Coca Cola says that it has begun using a modified form of caramel coloring in the United States that actually contains no 4-Mel. This way, they won’t have to separate their inventories based on the location that their products are being sent to. They have also stated that all of their products, whether they contain any of the modified caramel coloring or not, are perfectly safe for consumption.
Testing Coca Cola and Pepsi Products Outside of California
The Center for Environmental Health said that they commissioned Eurofins Analytical laboratory in Metairie, La., to test Pepsi and Coke products from California during May and from the rest of the country during June. On the other hand, Pepsi continues to affirm that the FDA and other regulatory agencies around the globe consider Pepsi’s caramel coloring to be safe.
The lab did not find this chemical in any of the tested products from California, and it also found no 4-Mel in nine out of ten Coca Cola products obtained from around the country. However, in all ten Pepsi products obtained from outside of California, they found levels of 4-Mel that are four to eight times higher than the safety levels that were established in California.
What’s the Real Story with 4-Mel?
Now, it should be mentioned that small amounts of 4-Mel have not been shown to cause cancer in human beings. In fact, the American Beverage Association said that California added the coloring agent to its list of carcinogens without any supporting evidence from human clinical studies that showed it could lead to the development of cancer. They stated that this listing was based on a single study involving lab mice and rats.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also commented that to reach the doses of 4-Mel that have been shown to cause cancer in rodents, a human being would have to drink more than a 1,000 cans of soda each day. In the end, you may not be getting cancer from drinking a soda, but you may want to think twice before reaching for your next one.