Coca-Cola keeps their top-secret recipe close to the vest, never sharing their exact ingredients or measurements. But at least one of their ingredients is being examined–the caramel color, which, previously, has produced a byproduct known as 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI. Also found in Pepsi‘s original cola, Dr. Pepper, and a Whole Foods version, the ingredient, according to a consumer watchdog group, may cause cancer. But that’s not why they’re changing it–they’re changing it to avoid a sales-sinking label.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has released findings which place the amount of 4-MEI, a byproduct of the ammonia-sulfite ingredient usually labeled “caramel coloring” in most colas, to be above the level that has been deemed safe in the State of California, which could result in a new label that warns consumers about the innocuous-looking ingredient. CSPI has been pushing the FDA to ban the ingredient altogether, but the government industry has been sluggish to respond, stating that a person would have to drink “well over 1,000 cans” of Coke to see an increase in their risk of cancer. Pro-soda lobbying groups have called the findings “outrageous.”
According to Coca-Cola, the company isn’t changing the recipe–they’re asking their manufacturers to no longer produce the caramel color in a way that produces the byproduct 4-MEI. Here’s the official statement:
The caramel color in all of our products has been, is and always will be safe, and The Coca-Cola Company is not changing the world-famous formula for our Coca-Cola beverages. Over the years, we have updated our manufacturing processes from time to time, but never altered our Secret Formula.
We have asked our caramel manufacturers to modify their production process to reduce the amount of 4-MEI in the caramel, but that will have no effect on the formula or on the great-tasting, high-quality products that consumers expect from us. These modifications will not affect the color or taste of Coca-Cola.
It’s important to note that Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and the like aren’t actually changing the ingredients because of the carcinogenic possibilities of 4-MEI–plenty of other Coke products present other, equally-serious health concerns–but instead, because the CSPI’s findings put the amount of 4-MI above the amount that is considered safe in some areas. Which means that the cola products are facing new labeling that would associate their products with cancer. It’s not because it causes cancer–it’s because they don’t want the cancer label.
Additionally, the changes only apply to U.S. cola products–because only the U.S. has safety standards regarding 4-MEI. In the UK, the old recipe is still considered “safe,” so it won’t be getting a makeover.
Whether or not 4-MEI actually does increase the risk of cancer in any substantial way is almost beside the point in this discussion–instead, the important aspect is that when an ingredient in most colas was found to be potentially (even if only slightly) dangerous, it wasn’t concern for their customers that got Pepsi and Coke to change their ingredients–it was the fear of being labeled as dangerous that did it, and it required a consumer protection group (not the government’s consumer protection group) to make it happen.
And really, isn’t even a teeny bit of a potentially carcinogenic ingredient too much?
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