Caramel Coloring in Soda is Cancerous, Says Public Interest Group

Based on new research, a public interest group warns that the caramel coloring in certain sodas harbor cancer-causing agents.

The debate has begun…again. For years, the public has been presented allegations from various research groups that specific additives in soda could cause cancer. Most recently, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the caramel coloring found in soda, like cola, and various other foods. Of course, food companies have disputed the claim that this common ingredient is particularly harmful.

The effects of the alleged carcinogens have been tested in animals

The two components in question, 2-methylimidazole (2-MEI) and 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), are said to have caused caused liver, lung, leukemia, and thyroid cancer in lab mice and rats, according to Catharine Paddock, PhD, of Medical News Today These studies were government-led and produced reputable data.

However, medical experts have discredited the studies in this specific case, maintaining that results of the animal studies are not a reflection of human risk. This may be because the body chemistry of animals differs from that of humans. Furthermore, the mice and rats were likely given highly concentrated doses of the additives, far more than their small bodies could process; the likelihood of adverse effects was magnified.

The caramel coloring is used in number of commonly ingested products

Among the products which contain the caramel coloring are colas, dark-colored sodas, beers, and even condiments like soy sauce. Denise Mann of WebMD Health reports that representatives from the Coca-Cola Company and other beverage companies have even suggested that 4-MEI “forms normally in the ‘browning reaction’ while cooking, even in one’s own kitchen.”

So, if these components have their place in the average person’s diet, why the uproar now? Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director of CPSI claims that the concentration of these chemicals is much higher in manufactured beverages and foods and, although 2-MEI and 4-MEI are not potent carcinogens, it is “…inappropriate to accept any risk from artificial coloring that has no nutritional or preservative value.”

Elimination of this frivolous coloring is suggested

The FDA will now entertain the idea of banning the use of caramel coloring by food and beverage companies. At the very least, warning labels citing the high concentration of these additives may come to fruition. Because the use of the coloring is solely used for maintaining appearances of the products we know and love, the petition may hold some weight.

But does this mean we will soon see the return of Crystal Pepsi, circa 1993? One can imagine the possibilities.

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