While cities such as New York continue to debate the dangers of excessive sugar in soft drinks, another potentially hazardous aspect of soda is now coming under fire.
Consumer Reports today warned of the dagners of 4-methylimidozole (4-Mel), a chemical found in the caramel coloring added to most sodas. The chemical has been found "possibly carcinogenic to humans" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which determined that 4-Mel does cause cancer in mice. The state of California currently requires that any product exposing a person to greater than 29 micrograms of 4-Mel to have a warning label.
Consumer Reports tested twelve different sodas and found varying levels of the chemical in different brands. Two sodas in particular averaged levels of 4-Mel that exceed the 29 microgram level in a single 12-ounce serving. Cans of Pepsi One were consistently shown to exceed the limit set in California's law, with Pepsi One soda tested in New York far exceeding the limit. Malta Goya soda was found to contain well over 300 micrograms of 4-Mel.
“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," said Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Food Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports. "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.”
Of the brands tested by Consumer Reports, Coca-Cola's sodas had the smallest amounts of 4-Mel. Coca-Cola Classic contained more than Coke Zero or Diet Coke with a bit over 4 micrograms of the chemical per can. This is closer to 3 micrograms per can that Consumer Reports estimates would make the cancer risks from 4-Mel negligible. The organization does point out, however, that many consumers often consumer more than one can of soda per day.
When asked about potentially labeling Pepsi One in California, the company told Consumer Reports that its estimates show that diet soda drinkers on average drink less than one third of a 12-ounce can per day of diet soda. Based on that, Pepsi does not believe it needs to label Pepsi One, since the California law is based on daily consumption.