It’s been said before, but now Consumer Reports is saying it again, regardless of whether the Food and Drug Administration agrees with its warning. According to WLWT.com, Consumer Reports came out with more evidence this week that the chemical found in many sodas — noted on U.S. product labels as “caramel coloring” — may be dangerous to consumers’ health, and it argues that certain companies are not abiding by set laws. The agency claims that the chemical 4-methylmidazole (or, 4-Mel), responsible for the golden-brown color is soft drinks, may possibly cause cancer, and has identified the companies that it believes aren’t taking regulations seriously.
There are differing opinions among experts whether 4-Mel is hazardous to consumers’ health, but groups like the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer support Consumer Reports’ argument, and the state of California even forbids manufacturers from marketing products that expose consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-Mel per day without a warning label.
The Golden State is one of the only areas with outlined laws dictating the handling of the chemical, but now Consumer Reports is charging that even products in California have chemicals that exceed the levels permitted without a warning label. In California, foods exceeding that limit are supposed to carry a label that reads: “WARNING: This products contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer,” but it claims not all products are playing by the rules.
WLWT.com reports that Consumer Reports analyzed sodas purchased in California and found that one 12-ounce serving of PepsiCo’s (NYSE:PEP) Pepsi One or Malta Goya exceeded the levels permitted without a warning label. The other sodas tested by the agency did meet requirements that agencies are satisfied with because they are estimated to limit the risk of cancer from 4-Mel to one case in every 100,000 lifetimes of daily exposure. After finding that Pepsi One and Malta Goya did not meet regulations in its story, Consumer Reports toxicologist, Dr. Urvashi Rangan, said in a statement, “We are concerned about both the levels of 4-MeI we found in many of the soft drinks tested and the variations observed among brands, especially given the widespread consumption of these types of beverages. There is no reason why consumers need to be exposed to this avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food and beverages brown.”
Pepsi is a company that has come under the spotlight for its use of 4-Mel ever since last summer when the Center for Environmental Health found that the soda giant wasn’t executing the changes regarding the chemical it promised to make back in 2012. Following reports that 4-Mel could have a link to cancer, both Pepsi and Coke vowed in 2012 to decrease the levels of the chemical in their beverages, but the agency reported in the summer of 2013 that Coke was the only party to meet those said promises.
Now, Consumer Reports is taking Pepsi to task again, but this time, the company is refuting any wrongdoing. According to WLWT.com, Pepsi said in a statement to Consumer Reports that data shows that the average person consumes less than one-third a can of diet soda per day; therefore, its product meets the California standard — and that’s the story Pepsi is sticking with.
Pepsi also has the FDA on its side, as the agency has now said time and time again that it does not suspect that 4-Mel poses a health risk to consumers at the levels found in foods with caramel coloring. FDA spokesperson Juli Putnam told CNN in a statement that it has tested food and beverage products with 4-Mel in order to determine if the chemical does pose any risk, and thus far, experts don’t feel as though any action needs to be taken.
The American Beverage Association also supports the FDA’s argument, and responded to Consumer Reports’ latest claim with the assertion that if the FDA doesn’t believe there is any reason for health concerns, consumers should not worry that certain beverages are unsafe. ADA said in a statement, “Contrary to the conclusions of Consumer Reports, FDA has noted there is no reason at all for any health concerns, a position supported by regulatory agencies around the world,” but it did note that companies are now encouraged to produce soft drinks that contain less 4-Mel.