Research Finds Cancerous Chemical in Coca-Cola

A watchdog group on Monday petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban a carcinogenic coloring compound found in most colas even as regulators insisted the threat was overstated.

A research study conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest found traces of the chemical 4-methylimidazole in samples of various sodas belonging to Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), Pepsi (NYSE:PEP), Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (NYSE:DPS) and Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM). The chemical, found in the caramel coloring agent used in the drinks, is a known carcinogenic with effects noted in rodents.

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The FDA insists the existing levels don’t have any known harmful effects on human health. “A consumer would have to consume well over a thousand cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered in the studies that have shown links to cancer in rodents,” according to Doug Karas, an FDA spokesman.

The advocacy group already petitioned the FDA on the same issue last year. Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI’s executive director, said in a statement accompanying the report findings Monday that the FDA needed to better protect consumers. “Coke and Pepsi, with the acquiescence of the FDA, are needlessly exposing millions of Americans to a chemical that causes cancer,” Jacobson’s statement read. “When most people see ‘caramel coloring’ on food labels, they likely interpret that quite literally and assume the ingredient is similar to what you might get by gently melting sugar in a saucepan. The reality is quite different.”

The CSPI analysis found 4-methylimidazole levels in a 12-ounce serving to exceed the 29 microgram limit set by California by five times, according to an Los Angeles Times report. There was no immediate reaction from individual beverage companies, but a statement released by the American Beverage Association referred to the advocacy group’s efforts as “scare tactics.”

“This is nothing more than CSPI scare tactics, and their claims are outrageous,” the ABA statement read. “CSPI fraudulently claims to be operating in the interest of the public’s health when it is clear its only motivation is to scare the American people.” The FDA said it was reviewing the petition.

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