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Caramel coloring in cola, food contaminated with carcinogens

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Caramel coloring

The Center for Science in the Public Interests (CSPI) has filed a petition with the FDA to ban caramel coloring in colas and foods that they say are tainted with cancer causing agents.

The group has also been asking the FDA to ban other synthetic food coloring that they say are carcinogenic, separate from the concern about caramel coloring

According to the group, there's a big difference between the kind of caramel made from sugar and the type of artificial brown coloring added to soft drinks and some foods that involve using ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures to create color to foods and soft drinks, soy and some beers, that is added for cosmetic reasons only.

“Carcinogenic colorings have no place in the food supply, especially considering that their only function is a cosmetic one,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “The FDA should act quickly to revoke its approval of caramel colorings made with ammonia.”

According to CSPI, the National Toxicology Program, the division of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences conducted the animal studies, showing caramel coloring in colas and foods leads to leukemia, lung, thyroid and liver cancer in rats or mice from "clear evidence".

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They explain the chemical reactions used to make the caramel color results in the formation of 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole. The resultant dark coloring is known as ammonia sulfite process caramel or caramel IV. Caramel III is used in soy products, some foods and beer and it lighter in color.

“Most people would interpret ‘caramel coloring’ to mean ‘colored with caramel,’ but this particular ingredient has little in common with ordinary caramel or caramel candy,” Jacobson said. “It’s a concentrated dark brown mixture of chemicals that simply does not occur in nature. Regular caramel isn’t healthful, but at least it is not tainted with carcinogens.”

In their letter to the FDA, CSPI, along with other scientists working in the field of toxicology urged FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to remove the potentially carcinogenic caramel coloring that is only added for cosmetic reasons.

They have also been asking the FDA to ban other food colorings such as Yellow 5 and Red 40. The FDA Food Advisory Committee will conduct a review March 30, 31.

The group says the evidence is clear that caramel coloring found widely in soft drinks, foods and sometimes beer is cancer producing and that carcinogens have no place in the public food supply.