Can drinking Coca-Cola cause cancer?
The state of California thinks one of the ingredients in the secret formula poses a risk.
So back in March, it issued the Coca-Cola company an ultimatum: either change the composition of the caramel flavoring in its sodas or display a mandatory “known carcinogen” label on all its cola products.
That’s not much of a choice for the 126 year-old beverage company. However, rather than display a warning label, they agreed to tweak their secret formula on products sold in that state.
At issue is the chemical 4-methylimidazole, (4-MI), which has been linked to cancer in mice and leukemia in rats. According to the watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) 4-MI forms when ammonia or ammonia and sulfites are used to make the distinctive caramel coloring of regular and diet sodas. California law mandates a cancer warning on any product containing certain levels of known carcinogens.
While only California currently requires such warnings, Coke is altering its formula throughout the United States to facilitate bottling and distribution. The company strongly denies any health risks from its flavorings, saying in a statementThe caramel color in all of our products has been, is and always will be safe, and The Coca-Cola Company is not changing the world-famous formula for our Coca-Cola beverages. Over the years, we have updated our manufacturing processes from time to time, but never altered our Secret Formula.
We have asked our caramel manufacturers to modify their production process to reduce the amount of 4-MEI in the caramel, but that will have no effect on the formula or on the great-tasting, high-quality products that consumers expect from us. These modifications will not affect the color or taste of Coca-Cola.CSPI tested a variety of sodas, including rival Pepsi, from cans purchased in the Washington, DC area. They found regular Coca-Cola had 142 micrograms (mcg) of 4-MI per 12 ounces in one sample and 146 mcg in another. California’s cutoff is 29 mcg for 4-MI - products with higher levels must carry a warning label. The non-profit consumer group estimates that colas cause some 15,000 cancers in the U.S. annually.
In a Los Angeles Times story, the American Beverage Association called the claim outrageous. The trade association asserted that California added the chemical to its carcinogen list based on one non-human lab study.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also played down any risk according to Reuters News. A spokesperson for the FDA said in a statement that a person would have to drink at least thousand cans a day to reach the same level of carcinogens found in lab rodents.
Coke’s arch rival, Pepsi-Cola, as well as other cola brands must also comply with California’s mandate. All of the beverage makers involved agreed to modify their formulas rather than display cancer warning labels.