Earlier this week, the Center For Science In The Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban two forms of caramel coloring, claiming that the ammonia and sulfites used in the creation of the products results in allegedly carcinogenic chemicals making their way into the resulting food and drink. Consumerist reached out to Coca-Cola and Pepsi to get their side of the story, but were instead passed on to the American Beverage Association, which offered its own version of things.
The ABA didn’t deny that a chemical known as 4 methylimidazole [4-MEI] is a result of the creation of the caramel colorings in question, but it did deny the CSPI’s allegations that 4-MEI is a carcinogen:
4-MEI is not a threat to human health. 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.
4-MEI is virtually ubiquitous, found in trace amounts in a wide variety of foods and beverages. It forms during the heating, roasting or cooking process….
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 the foods containing 4-MEI – from baked goods and breads to wine and coffee.
Both the ABA and CSPI reference to the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program to back up their claims.
CSPI said that a NTP study reports there is “clear evidence” that 4-MEI is an animal carcinogen. Additionally, two former, and one current NTP, staffers are among those experts who have signed a letter of support for the petition.
Meanwhile, the Beverage Association points out that NTP does not identify 4-MEI as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
We did a search on the NTP site and found this 2007 study on 4-MEI. The results ranged from no evidence of carcinogenic activity in male rats, to equivocal evidence in female rats, to clear evidence in both male and female mice.
All this bickering makes me glad I only drink Mountain Dew because I know that green color is slowly giving me supernatural powers.