Artificial Caramel Coloring in Soft Drinks Linked to Cancer, FDA Petitioned

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has submitted another blow to the soda industry in a petition with the FDA to ban ingredients commonly known as “caramel coloring” found in many sodas and snack food items due to the increased risk of cancer caused by these colorants.

Caramel coloring is far different from actual caramel, according to CSPI, who has said that the chemicals made during the caramel color process are “considered to pose cancer threats to humans,” and they call for banning all caramel colorings. In a letter to Margaret Hamburg, FDA Commissioner, CSPI stated that “the American public should not be exposed to any cancer risk whatsoever as a result of consuming such chemicals, especially when they serve a non-essential, cosmetic purpose.”

A process of reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites in high pressure and high temperature environments creates caramel colors and also causes a chemical reaction resulting in 2-methylimidazole (2-MI) and 4-methylimidazole (4-MI). Both 2-MI and 4-MI were tested in government studies and shown to cause several types of cancers including lung, liver, thyroid and leukemia in lab animals.

Popular soda brands currently contain about 200 micrograms of 4-MI per 20-ounce bottle, but California’s Proposition 65 may potentially include 4-MI to the list of “chemicals known to the state to cause cancer.” Foods and beverages containing more than specific levels of identified chemicals would be required to carry warning labels and reduce the levels of 4-MI in products, with the maximum level for 4-MI limited to 16 micrograms per person per day (from any one product).

Response from the grocery industry defended the safety of their products and ingredients such as caramel color stating that 4-MI is found in trace amounts of many food and beverage items and that there is no evidence concluding that 4-MI leads to cancer or any other human health risk. The Grocery Manufacturers Association said, “no health regulatory agency around the globe, including the FDA, has said that [4-MI] is a known human carcinogen.”

In addition to warning about caramel coloring, CSPI has been urging the FDA about the effects of synthetic food colorings for some time. Yellow 5 and Red 40 have been linked to behavioral problems in children and Red 3 and Yellow 5 have been shown to pose cancer risks.

To learn more about soda read: Top 10 Reasons to Banish Soda

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Photo: jeff_golden