The changes being made by Coca Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc revolve around an ingredient known as 4-methylimadozle (4-Ml). Last year, the state of California added 4-Ml to a list of ingredients determined by the state to be carcinogens and under the law, products that contain a certain amount of these ingredients must be accompanied by a warning label that the product may cause cancer.
Under California law, any product containing more than 29 micrograms (mcgs) of 4-Ml must contain a warning label. As reported by the New York Daily News
, cans of Pepsi were found to contain between 145 and 153 mcgs while cans of Coke had between 113 and 146 mcgs.
Only California is requiring the major soft drink companies to either change their ingredients or place warning labels on their products.
The change was pushed for by the left wing U.S. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Michael F. Jacobson, the executive director of the CSPI, was quoted by CTV News
When most people see 'caramel coloring' on food labels, they likely interpret that quote literally and assume the ingredient is similar to what you might get by gently melting sugar in a saucepan. The reality is quite different. Colorings made with the ammonia or ammonia-sulfite process contains carcinogens and don't belong in the food supply.
The companies have already made changes to their products sold in California but plan to make the changes nation-wide in order to simplify their production processes. Diana Garza-Ciarlante, a Coca-Cola Co representative, is quoted by the BBC
While we believe 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.
According to the BBC, large quantities of 4-Ml have caused cancer in mice and rats but there is no evidence of the ingredient causing cancer in humans.
The American Beverage Association responded to the claims of CSPI, calling them "fraudulent" and "scare tactics." The Association pointed out that the U.S. Food and Drug Agency, the European Food Safety Authority, and Health Canada have all found levels of 4-Ml in Coca-Cola and Pepsi to be safe. Their release stated
California added 4-Ml to its list of carcinogens with no studies showing it causes cancer in humans. California's testing was based on a single study of lab mice and rats. A person would have to drink more than 2,900 cans of cola a day for 70 years to reach the lowest dose levels mice received in the single study upon which California based its decision.
Caramel colouring is also used in other foods and beverages including beer, liquor, potato chips and doughnuts.