Coke and Pepsi Changes Will Cut Cancer-Causing Ingredient by 90 Percent
Both Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc have announced that they will adjust their manufacturing processes nationwide to reduce levels of 4-methylimidazole, also known as 4-MI or 4-MEI – in their popular soft drinks. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, who first raised the concern to the US Food and Drug Administration, applauded the move, stating that chemical levels would be reduced by 90 percent.
What is 4-MI?
4-Methylimidazole is a byproduct formed in the processing of caramel coloring, an ingredient found in brown soft drinks such as Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi. It is prepared by the controlled heat treatment of carbohydrates with ammonium-containing and sulfite-containing compounds.
However, the chemical is also a naturally-occurring compound formed when browning and roasting foods - a chemical reaction known as the Maillard reaction. A study published in the Archives of Toxicology states that the chemical is also detectable in tobacco smoke.
What is the concern about 4-MI in our foods and beverages?
Earlier this week, media sources announced that the FDA was reviewing a petition by CSPI that an independent study found levels of 4-MI, an ingredient found to cause cancerous tumors in mice, to be 4.8 times higher than the maximum level allowable by California Proposition 65, a law intended to protect California citizens from any chemical known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. 4-MI was added to the Prop 65 list on January 7, 2011.
4-Methylimidazole was added after the National Toxicology Program (NTP) found that the chemical caused cancer in one study of mice being fed the ingredient in enormous doses which is the normal approach to how toxicological studies are designed and conducted. The types of cancers produced in animal studies include lung cancer and leukemia.
It is still not certain whether or not 4-MI is carcinogenic to humans. Yet in February 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the compound as Group 2B, or “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
CSPI estimates that the amount of 4-MI currently in the Coke and Pepsi products tested causes nearly 15,000 cancers among Americans.
Regulatory agencies state the ingredient is GRAS – Generally Recognized as Safe
The FDA, Health Canada, and the European Food Safety Authority all approve of 4-MI as safe to consume, although the FDA does regulate its content in colas. In the CSPI study, the beverages tested were above the California Prop 65 requirement but below the maximum allowed by the FDA.
How will the soft drink changes affect me and when will they take place?
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both state that the changes made to their soft drinks are an effort to avoid cancer warning labels being added to their product. “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,” said Diana Garza-Ciarlante of Coca-Cola.
Both company spokespersons emphasize that neither products’ taste will be affected. “We are not changing our recipe; or our formula,” said another spokesman for Coke, Ben Sheidler.
The American Beverage Association has also made a statement. “Consumers will notice no difference in our products and have no reason at all for any health concerns,” the organization said.
Mr. Sheidler has said that while the newly processed caramel coloring ingredient would ultimately be enacted nationwide and globally “in order to streamline and simplify our supply chain, manufacturing, and distribution systems,” there has not been a timeline set for the changes to take place.