"If consumers want another reason to avoid soda pop, this is a good one," the group's Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson said. "It makes no sense to leave these in the food supply."
"FDA's assessment will dictate what, if any, regulatory action needs to be taken," the agency said in a statement sent to Consumer Ally. This risk assessment will be used to help respond to the petition."
The FDA noted that the additive is on the list to be reviewed at the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer now under way in France.
The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo referred all requests for comment to the American Beverage Association, which sent Consumer Ally a statement strongly challenging the Center for Science in the Public Interest's petition to the FDA to ban the additive 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI).
"4-MEI is not a threat to human health," the association said. "There is no evidence that 4-MEI causes cancer in humans. No health regulatory agency around the globe, including the Food and Drug Administration, has said that 4-MEI is a human carcinogen. This petition is nothing more than another attempt to scare consumers by an advocacy group long-dedicated to attacking the food and beverage industry."
The association noted that the federal National Toxicology Program does not identify the additive as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
"The bottom line is that this petition to the FDA by a group of activists is not based on sound science and is unnecessarily raising the fears of consumers," the association said in its statement. "The safety of our products is the foremost priority for our companies. Consumers can take confidence in the fact that people have been safely drinking colas for more than a century, as well as consuming the wide variety of foods and beverages containing 4-MEI, from baked goods and breads to wine and coffee."
Coca-Cola later issued this statement:
Our beverages are completely safe. Ensuring the safety of our products and maintaining the confidence of consumers are the most important priorities for The Coca-Cola Company.
CSPI's statement irresponsibly insinuates that the caramel used in our beverages is unsafe and maliciously raises cancer concerns among consumers. This does a disservice to the very public for which CSPI purports to serve. In fact studies show that the caramel we use does not cause cancer. Further, the caramel we use does not contain the 2-MEI alleged by CSPI.
4-MEI is found in trace amounts in a wide variety of foods and beverages, including Coca-Cola. In fact, it forms normally in the 'browning reaction' while cooking, even in one's own kitchen.
These extrapolations by CSPI to human health and cancer are totally unfounded. We have a responsibility to challenge Mr. Jacobson's statements and make the truth clear for the public.
The FDA told Consumer Ally it's common for doses used in animal tests to be much higher than what consumers would be exposed to in the real world. The agency estimated a consumer would have to drink "well over a thousand cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered in the NTP studies."
Caramel coloring isn't the only food additive to come under fire from the nonprofit watchdog group, which is also pushing for the ban of synthetic food dyes like Yellow 5 and Red 40.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling on the FDA to ban two types of caramel coloring both made with ammonia - Caramel IV, also called ammonia sulfite process caramel and Caramel III.
Jacobson, the group's executive director, said caramel coloring made with amonia creates the chemicals 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole. Studies done by the National Toxicology Program showed those chemicals caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory mice or rats.
"Most people would interpret 'caramel coloring' to mean 'colored with caramel,' but this particular ingredient has little in common with ordinary caramel or caramel candy," Jacobson said in a statement. "It's a concentrated dark brown mixture of chemicals that simply does not occur in nature. Regular caramel isn't healthful, but at least it is not tainted with carcinogens."
To put the issue in perspective, CSPI said the 10 teaspoons of sugar in a non-diet can of soda is a greater health risk than the caramel coloring because it contributes to consumer obesity.
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