ATLANTA & PURCHASE, N.Y. -- The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. are changing the way they make the caramel coloring used in their sodas as a result of a California law that mandates drinks containing a certain level of carcinogens come with a cancer warning label, reported the Associated Press.
As previously reported in CSP Daily News (see Related Content below), the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, in February filed a petition with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the use of ammonia-sulfite caramel coloring.
A spokesperson for the FDA said the petition is being reviewed. But he noted that a consumer would have to drink more than 1,000 cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered that have shown links to cancer in rodents.
Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo said the changes will be expanded nationally to streamline their manufacturing processes. The changes have already been made for drinks sold in California.
A representative for Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. said all its caramel coloring now meet the new California standard.
Coca-Cola spokesperson Diana Garza-Ciarlante said the company directed its caramel suppliers to modify their manufacturing processes to reduce the levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), which can be formed during the cooking process and, as a result, may be found in trace amounts in many foods.
"While we believe that 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," Garza-Ciarlante told AP.
In a separate statement, Coca-Cola said:
"Extensive media coverage has been devoted in the past few days to some misconceptions about caramel and The Coca-Cola Co.'s beverages. We want to set the record straight, and be absolutely clear.
"The caramel color in all of our products has been, is and always will be safe, and The Coca-Cola Co. 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.
"Our commitment to the highest quality and safety of our great brands remains our top priority. And we will continue to rely on sound, evidence-based science to ensure that our products are safe."
The American Beverage Association also issued a statement:
"While some media outlets have reported that our member companies are 'changing their recipes,' this is not the case," the association said in a statement. "Our member companies will still use caramel coloring in certain products, as always. The companies that make caramel coloring for our members' soft drinks are now producing it to meet California's new standard, and it will be used in products nationwide. Consumers will notice no difference in our products and have no reason at all for any health concerns, as supported by FDA and regulatory agencies around the world."
It said that the "FDA [has] downplayed any health risks," and that the agency "has approved caramel as a color additive and lists it as a 'generally recognized as safe' food ingredient."
It cited other studies:
*In March 2011, following a comprehensive review of the scientific literature, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reaffirmed that the presence of 4-MEI in caramel coloring is not a health concern.
*In November 2011, Health Canada said that 4-MEI, including that found in certain caramel colors, does "not represent a risk" to consumers.
*A National Toxicology Program (NTP) study does not even list 4-MEI as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" in its "Report on Carcinogens."
*California added 4-MEI to its list of carcinogens with no studies showing that it causes cancer in humans. California's listing was based on a single study in lab mice and rats. A person would need to drink more than 2,900 cans of cola every day for 70 years to reach the lowest dose levels mice received in the single study upon which California based its decision. And, the study showed a reduction of tumors in the lab rats tested.
*4-MEI forms in foods, such as caramel, during the heating, roasting and cooking process and is virtually ubiquitous--found in trace amounts in foods and beverages that have been commonly consumed for decades, including baked goods, coffee, breads, molasses, soy sauce, gravies and some beers.
Concerning the Center for Science in the Public Interest's petition, the association said, "This is nothing more than CSPI scare tactics, and their claims are outrageous. The science simply does not show that 4-MEI in foods or beverages is a threat to human health. ... CSPI fraudulently claims to be operating in the interest of the public's health when it is clear its only motivation is to scare the American people."
Members help make our journalism possible. Become a CSP member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.