Consumer Reports warns about a seemingly harmless feature in your favorite soda, while in fact this ingredient can cause serious health problems including cancer.
The signature caramel color of your favorite cola is the result of the artificial chemical, 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI). According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, long-term exposure to the chemical causes lung cancer in mice. The study findings are so serious, and results so alarming, that it prompted California to add 4-MeI to its list of potentially toxic chemicals under Proposition 65 – which requires warning labels on products containing high levels of the chemical. In the case of sodas, products containing at least 29 micrograms of 4-MeI per can or bottle should display a warning label that reads: “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.”
With the standard in California firmly set at 29 micrograms, Consumer Reports purchased different sodas and had them analyzed by a lab. The results showed that one 12-ounce serving of Pepsi One or Malta Goya exceeded the levels permitted, and did not display the required warning label. However, ten other brands tested at the same time did meet the standard.
Trying to pull a fast one?
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t set federal limits on 4-MeI in food, and data collected by Consumer Reports reveals that in some cases, consumers outside California are drinking a slightly different composition of the same product. For example, Pepsi One purchased in New York contains four times as much 4-MeI as the same product bought at the same time in California. Another alarming factor is that in a statement to Consumer Reports regarding their findings, PepsiCo Inc said their data indicates the average person consumes less than one-third a can of diet soda per day; therefore, its product meets the California standard, even if a complete serving exceeds the limit of 29 micrograms of the toxic chemical.
In response to the Consumer Reports investigation, the FDA is conducting new safety studies on products containing 4-MeI, but noted it’s been studied for decades and has no reason to believe it’s unsafe. PepsiCo’s spokeswoman also released a statement expressing “extreme concern” by the company about the new Consumer Reports study and believes they are factually incorrect.
Factually incorrect, yet confirmed on multiple accounts and by different agencies? Not likely. The Center for Environmental Health conducted tests of Pepsi products and their researchers found high levels of the possible carcinogen. In March 2012, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) raised concerns in a report of their own, estimating about 15,000 cancers could be caused by the levels of 4-MeI currently produced in drinks.
Diligence and awareness is key. When followed blindly, large corporations can lead us straight to their own selfish end, with total disregard of impact and absolute lack of conscience. Cutting corners to double a buck is, unfortunately, becoming more common. Read labels, question ingredients, and shelter your gift of health.
It’s worth mentioning that shortly after the March study was released by the CSPI, Coca Cola announced it would be switching to a low-4MeI formula of their product. Clearly the evidence carries some weight, don’t you agree?