The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that samples of Coca-Cola tested in nine countries reveal "alarming amounts" of the chemical 4-methylimidazole that has been linked to cancer in animals.
According to Daily Mail, Californian health officials list 4-methylimidazole (4-MI) as a potential carcinogen. Daily Mail reports that 4-MI in Coca-Cola's caramel coloring is a contaminant resulting from the industrial process that creates the coloring. Chemical reactions between sugar and ammonia result in the formation of 4-MI.
After concerns were raised about the levels of the chemical in Coca-Cola and Pepsi, both companies announced in March that they had asked their suppliers to change the levels of the chemical in the caramel coloring for California as required by a California ballot initiative to limit consumer exposure to toxic and potentially carcinogenic chemicals.
Reuters reports that Coca-Cola announced that it would start with the new formula for its caramel coloring in California and then gradually expand use of the new formula to other areas, but did not commit itself to a specific timetable.
After Coca-Cola said it had lowered the level of the chemical in California, tests carried out on samples of Coca-Cola produced in California showed it contained only 4 micrograms of 4-MI per 12 ounces, much lower than the California requirement of a warning label for any food product that will expose consumers to more than 29 micrograms a day. California health officials issued the regulation that products with more than 29 micrograms of 4-MI must carry a health warning after studies showed that long-term exposure to the chemical causes lung cancer in rats.
But Coke samples taken in Brazil reportedly contained 267 micrograms. Samples from Kenya contained 177 micrograms and samples from Washington contained 145 micrograms. Daily Mail reports that Coca-Cola produced in Britain was found to contain 135 micrograms.
Campaigners, however, say that daily consumption of 30 mcg of 4-MI causes cancer in one in 100, 000 people over their lifetimes.
After the report that samples of Coke in some parts of the US were found to contain 4-MI levels as high as 140 mcg, Coca-Cola agreed to cut down on the level of the chemical in its US product. According to CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson, consumers in other countries drink less Coca-Cola than US consumers, so they are less exposed to the potentially carcinogenic chemical. Jacobson said: "But now that we know it's possible to almost totally eliminate this carcinogen from colas, there's no excuse for Coca-Cola and other companies not to do so worldwide, and not just in California." Foxreno.com reports that changing manufacturing process to produce caramel coloring completely free of 4-MI would cost four times as much as the ordinary process.
Reuters reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering a petition by CSPI to implement measures to ban the industrial process that produces high 4-MI levels in the caramel coloring. But according to Reuters, the FDA says there are no reasons to believe that there is any immediate or short-term danger to consumers.
An FDA spokesman said a person would drink "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".
Daily Mail reports that while European regulators do not believe 4-MI poses any health risks, Coca-Cola promised to reduce levels in its product sold in the rest of the world but it has not committed itself to a timetable and has not made any move to do so as it has done in the US. Pepsi has reduced the chemical only in its American formula and has not reduced it anywhere else in the world. Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola claim that their beverages are completely safe. Coca-Cola said it made an immediate change to its formula in US only in response to what it described as "scientifically unfounded" food law in California. Reuters reports that on Tuesday, Coca-Cola repeated that the caramel coloring in all of its products is safe. Daily Mail reports that Coca-Cola in Britain said: "Coca-Cola has an uncompromising commitment to product safety and quality. All of the ingredients in our products are safe."
According to Reuters, Coca-Cola said on Tuesday it is still working on logistics of introducing a new caramel coloring. The company said in a statement: "We intend to expand the use of the modified caramel globally to allow us to streamline and simplify our supply chain, manufacturing, and distribution systems."