The caramel coloring used to give Pepsi its rich, brown look is still carcinogenic, according to the findings of an environmental group. This, after PepsiCo Inc. said it would make changes to its formula.
The Center for Environmental Health said that testing revealed that while products manufactured by Coca-Cola Co. no longer tested positive for 4-methylimidazole (4-Mel), Pepsi products did, according to the Associated Press (AP). This March, both PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. agreed to adjust their formulas nationwide when a law was passed in California mandating drinks containing a specific level of carcinogens be labeled with a cancer warning. PepsiCo is in compliance in California, but not elsewhere.
4-Mel is a carcinogenic substance that develops during cooking. According to the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), while traditional caramel is made with melted sugar, caramel coloring found in colas and other products is the result of a process in which sugars react with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures. It is the chemical reactions that form 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole. Government-conducted studies found the 4-Mel and 2-Mel caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory testing.
Pepsi said that the suppliers of its caramel coloring are changing their processes to reduce 4-Mel in its caramel coloring. Although the process has been completed in California, it will not be completed in the rest of the country until next February, according to the AP, which noted that Pepsi plans on removing the chemical in its products worldwide; no timeline was given for the global change.
Despite the carcinogenic nature of 4-Mel, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies worldwide feel that Pepsi’s caramel coloring is safe for human consumption.
The Center for Environmental Health said it commissioned Eurofins Analystical laboratory in Metairie, Louisiana to test the drink makers’ products from California in May and nationwide in June. The lab detected level of 4-Mel 4-8 times higher than California safety levels in the 10 Pepsi products tested that were purchased outside of California, according to the Center for Environmental Health, wrote the AP.
We previously wrote that after reviewing a complaint from CSPI in which it said that 4-Mel causes tumors in animals the FDA said there is no immediate risk. The U.S. regulator alleged that one would have to drink in excess of 1,000 cans of soda daily to cause cancer in rodents, said FDA spokesman Douglas Karas. At the time, the CSPI disagreed saying that high 4-MEI levels were detected in a number of drinks made by both the Coca-Cola Co. and the PepsiCo. Inc.
The CPSI noted that the National Toxicology Program, the division of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said “clear evidence” exists that 2-MI and 4-MI are animal carcinogens. According to the CPSI, chemicals that cause cancer in animals are also believed to present cancer threats to humans. At the time of its study last year, CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said, “Carcinogenic colorings have no place in the food supply, especially considering that their only function is a cosmetic one. The FDA should act quickly to revoke its approval of caramel colorings made with ammonia.”