Cancer has been linked to countless triggers from pesticides to cigarettes to ingredients found in soda. The artificial sweetener aspartame’s controversial connection to cancer has long been debated since Coca-Cola first added it to Diet Coke in 1983. And recent issues with 4-MI (also 4-MEI), found in the artificial color added to Coca-Cola and other popular brands of soda products, have forced the company to make major shifts in order to avoid adding a cancer warning to products’ labels.
California listed the toxin 4-MI, found in the caramel color ingredient, to its list of known carcinogens in 2011, which would require any products containing the ingredient sold in the state to bear a warning label despite the unrealistic amount of soda a consumer would have to drink in order to achieve the blood levels of 4-MI connected with cancer. The FDA puts that number at somewhere around one thousand cans in a 24-hour period.
Still, the California law requires major changes for the soda industry’s labeling, or in Coca-Cola’s case, ingredients. Rather than boast a “may cause cancer” label, the manufacturer has announced that it is in the process of switching to a new caramel coloring that has lower levels of 4-MI than the one considered carcinogenic by California.
Supporting California’s decision, consumer group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, also petitioned the FDA in 2011 about banning the ammonia-sulfite caramel color—a move that incited criticism from the American Beverage Association. In a statement on the ABA’s website, the organization responds: “While some media outlets have reported that our member companies are ‘changing their recipes,’ this is not the case. 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.” And with other soda companies soon to follow Coca-Cola’s lead, the ABA insists that caramel color does not pose a human health risk. “This is nothing more than CSPI scare tactics, and their claims are outrageous.”
According to the California ruling, soda brands typically contain about 200 micrograms of 4-MI per 20-ounce bottle. In addition to the warning labels, soda companies would be required to reduce the levels of 4-MI to 16 micrograms per serving.
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