Many people are aware of the health risks caused by artificial sweeteners or the high content of fructose used in sodas, but do these beverages pose a cancer risk as well?
According to consumer watchdog group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), two types of caramel coloring used in colas can cause cancer. They base their assertions on a test conducted several years ago by the National Toxicology Program that discovered a contaminant in these colorings produced cancer in studies on rodents.
Although the CSPI accedes that obesity is still the greater risk caused by drinking non-diet sodas, they contend that the beverages still present a cancer risk and are calling for the FDA to ban the chemicals in question.
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the CSPI, said that while no one will get cancer if they occasionally drink a soda, the more they consume, the greater their risk will be. Jacobson said he believes it is unacceptable to have any risk from a chemical that is merely a colorant and does not add to the flavor.
The carcinogen, known as 4-MI, is formed when ammonia is used in the caramel coloring manufacturing process. Researchers at CSPI found unsafe levels of the chemical in Coke and Pepsi, as well as Whole Foods’ 365 Cola and Dr. Pepper. The findings showed 4-MI levels in Coke and Pepsi were more than four times greater than the safe threshold established by California’s Office of Health Hazard Assessment. The CSPI says that while the levels of 4-MI found in Dr. Pepper were far less, they still present a cancer risk much higher than what the FDA currently allows in food additives.
Spokespeople from the American Beverage Association (ABA) and FDA are discounting the risk. The ABAcontends the CSPI is using scare tactics and that science does not show the colorant is a threat to humans. FDA spokesman Douglas Karas appears to agree and states that consumers would need to drink over 1,000 cans of soda per day to acquire the dose used in the research that showed a link to cancer in rodents.
Last year, California added 4-MI to its list of carcinogens that require a warning label on products containing them. In efforts to adhere to California law and avoid the necessity of putting cancer labels on cans, Coco-Cola is taking steps to change to a new formulation that would contain a lower quantity of the 4-MI coloring. Although the rest of the country does not have California’s strict requirements in carcinogen labeling, Coke plans to expand the low 4-MI formulation nationwide.
In the meantime, the FDA said that they are evaluating the colorant and its effect on humans. They plan to respond to the CSPI’s request in a timely manner.
 FDA Urged to Prohibit Carcinogenic “Caramel Coloring.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2011 Feb 16. http://www.cspinet.org/new/201102161.html.
 Foster B. CSPI: Caramel Coloring in Coke, Pepsi Can Cause Cancer; Industry Disputes Claim. ABC News. 2011 Feb 16. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/cspi-caramel-coloring-cola-cancer-soft-drink-industry/story?id=12932008.
 Castillo M. Chemical found in cola causes cancer, watchdog warns: What does FDA say? CBS News. 2012 Mar 12. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57391560-10391704/chemical-found-in-cola-causes-cancer-watchdog-warns-what-does-fda-say/.
 Aubrey A. Coca-Cola Modifies Caramel Color To Avoid Cancer Warning Label. NPR. 2012 Mar 7. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/07/148075310/coca-cola-modifies-caramel-color-to-avoid-cancer-warning-label.
 Aubrey A.
 Foster B.