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Intro: "New chemical analyses have found that Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Diet Coke, and Diet Pepsi contain high levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MI), a known animal carcinogen."

On Monday, Scientists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest released the troubling results of lab tests conducted on sodas containing caramel coloring. (photo George Frey/Reuters)
On Monday, Scientists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest released the troubling results of lab tests conducted on sodas containing caramel coloring. (photo George Frey/Reuters)

Lab Tests Find Carcinogen in Coke and Pepsi

By Center for Science in the Public Interest

07 March 12


ew chemical analyses have found that Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Diet Coke, and Diet Pepsi contain high levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MI), a known animal carcinogen. The carcinogen forms when ammonia or ammonia and sulfites are used to manufacture the "caramel coloring" that gives those sodas their distinctive brown colors, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the nonprofit watchdog group that commissioned the tests. CSPI first petitioned the FDA to ban ammonia-sulfite caramel coloring in February 2011.

CSPI today reiterated its call to the Food and Drug Administration to revoke its authorization for caramel colorings that contain 4-MI, and in the interim to change the name of the additive to "ammonia-sulfite process caramel coloring" or "chemically modified caramel coloring" for labeling purposes.

"Coke and Pepsi, with the acquiescence of the FDA, are needlessly exposing millions of Americans to a chemical that causes cancer," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "The coloring is completely cosmetic, adding nothing to the flavor of the product. If companies can make brown food coloring that is carcinogen-free, the industry should use that. And industry seems to be moving in that direction. Otherwise, the FDA needs to protect consumers from this risk by banning the coloring."

CSPI collected samples of Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Diet Dr Pepper, and Whole Foods 365 Cola from Washington, D.C.-area stores. Pepsi's products had 145 to 153 micrograms (mcg) of 4-MI in two 12-ounce cans. Regular Coca-Cola had 142 mcg per 12 ounces in one sample and 146 mcg in another. Diet Coke had 103 mcg per 12 ounces in one sample and 113 mcg in another.

To put those levels into context, the state of California has a 29-microgram benchmark for 4-MI. Levels above that in a serving of food or beverage may be required to bear a warning notice. Based on California's risk model, CSPI estimates that the 4-MI in the Coke and Pepsi products tested is causing about 15,000 cancers in the U.S. population.

While federal law bans food additives that cause any number of cancers, the FDA has an exception for contaminants of food additives, for which it tolerates a lifetime risk of one cancer in one million people. Three of four samples of Dr Pepper or Diet Dr Pepper that CSPI tested had low levels of 4-MI, with about 10 mcg per 12 ounces. But even those levels pose a cancer risk of seven in one million-seven times greater than what FDA allows. The lower levels in those three samples indicate that it is possible to lower, if not eliminate, the amount of 4-MI.

Pepsi told CSPI that it has switched to a coloring in California that contains much less 4-MI and plans to do the same in the rest of the country.

"When most people see 'caramel coloring' on food labels, they likely interpret that quite literally and assume the ingredient is similar to what you might get by gently melting sugar in a saucepan," Jacobson said. "The reality is quite different. Colorings made with the ammonia or ammonia-sulfite process contain carcinogens and don't belong in the food supply. In any event, they shouldn't be obscured by such an innocuous-sounding name as 'caramel coloring.'"

As troubling as the new test results are, CSPI says soda drinkers should be much more concerned about the high-fructose corn syrup or other sugars used in soft drinks. Soda drinkers are much more likely than non-soda drinkers to develop weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. your social media marketing partner


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+35 # PhilO 2012-03-07 22:18
"...the 4-MI in the Coke and Pepsi products tested is causing about 15,000 cancers in the U.S. population."

Is that per year? Or, over the lifetime of the product? Or, cumulatively? Or, ????

And, I agree with the final point. HFCS is a far more dangerous ingredient. Not only is it dangerous in and of itself, but it's also used to make unpalatable (read, "inedible"!) foods 'tasty'... so we end up eating crap that should be consigned to the compost pile!
+24 # James38 2012-03-08 02:07
You want to be healthy?

Don't drink any sodas or sugar based drinks that have a little juice in them.

Don't consume beverages or foods that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup, artificial colors or flavors.

Don't use any artificial sweeteners. If you want a low calorie sweetener, use Stevia or Xylitol or a mixture of them. They are natural and harmless.

Don't eat white flour, especially bleached white flour, white rice, white sugar. Eat whole grain rice (brown rice) and whole grains in general.

Don't eat any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Don't eat cottonseed oil and avoid palm oil.

Don't eat processed meat products or bacon that have nitrite or nitrate preservatives. Avoid foods that have any preservatives.

Avoid GMO foods. Corn which grows its own pesticides is toxic.

Don't take ant-acids or tylenol (ibuprofin). If you need an aspirin, take a half a tablet. Eat less and drink less alcohol, and you will not need these.

This is just a starter toward a healthy diet. However, just by following these guidelines you will be much more likely to be healthy.
+11 # rockieball 2012-03-08 10:16
Not to mention James you will find yourself less hungry eat less snacks as well, and smaller portions at a meal will fill you up more. I would also ad Don't eat at fast food places. Eat free range grain feed meats.
+8 # PhilO 2012-03-08 16:17
Another suggestion: eat SLOWLY... you'll eat less.

And, I think you meant to write:
" range GRASS fed meats". 'Grain feeds' make for unhealthy animals - so they need to be fed lots of antibiotics and shot up with steroids and other growth promoting hormones, and they have lots of unhealthy fats in their tissues.
+7 # michelle 2012-03-08 20:31
Read Michael Pollen's book, In Defense of Food, for a real eye opening look at what has happened to our food. His advice is simple; eat food, mostly plants, not too much. His corollary is great; if your grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, well it probably isn't food. All of the comments in this thread are great. It is true if you are eating real food, you are eat less because you are not hungry. In our oh so hectic world it is difficult to find the time to prepare fresh food but certainly a worthy goal.
+10 # Valleyboy 2012-03-08 04:09
Wow, so glad I've trusted my instincts my whole life and hardly drunk any Coke!
+10 # Terrapin 2012-03-08 10:24
Boycott KILLERCOKE ...
Unthinkable / Undrinkable
Coca Cola proudly adding CANCER to it's corporate death dealings.
+15 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-03-08 11:16
Poisoning your customers: the Capitalist Way.
+8 # reiverpacific 2012-03-08 12:30
Considering the amount of precious water these syrupy, Gawd-awful slops use up, especially in areas that can ill-afford it, you'd think they'd be at least a little more vigilant (Not!). I've no proof of this but I'll bet they put some addictive substances in the revolting mix too. -And then there is the huge advertising budgets that keep the TV-opiated masses rushing out for more.
What is a real anomaly is that healthier alcoholic drinks are so regulated here but my daughter has been getting little tots of wine since she was five, like kids in France, Spain Italy and other countries, has grown up with an educated and discriminating pallet and never touches Coke etc.
Hell even the fashionable bottled waters these same distributors sell as "Pure" is mostly taken straight from the faucets you can drink out of free and they've been caught at it but just slapped on the wrists.
It's not unlike banning Marijuana and all hemp products so that people can kill themselves legally with tobacco and it's additives. It's all in the mass-marketing, innit!?
0 # bostechie 2012-03-10 08:23
[quote name="reiverpac ific"] I've no proof of this but I'll bet they put some addictive substances in the revolting mix too.

I think they call it caffeine.

I take issue with "healthier" alcoholic drinks. They are responsible for way more deaths than this faux caramel coloring. But, let's not hijack the thread.
+20 # Billy Bob 2012-03-08 12:40
Remember this article the next time someone talks about how great deregulation is.

We need MORE regulation. If you want carcinogens out of the food supply and more honest ingredient labels, there's only one way to acheive that - through GOVERNMENT REGULATION.

Say it out loud to yourself:


See?! It sort of rolls of the tongue, doesn't it? I bet you didn't even injure yourself. It's not really a naughty word, even if St. Ray-gun thought it was. It turns out he was wrong.
+6 # colvictoria 2012-03-09 08:40
Billy Bob,
You need to understand that the government (USDA) subsidizes corn, wheat, soy and other agricultural products. The corn is mainly GMO and that is where high fructose corn syrup comes from to sweeten soda and even our bread. All of our snacks like Doritos, corn chips, tortillas, Cheetos etc.. are made from GMO corn. The USDA does not require that GMO foods be labeled as such. How about all of our bread,pastries, pasta products made from subsidized white, bleached,GMO wheat flour? Read the label next time and see that many of these products use partially hydrogenated trans fat oils. These fats cause some serious damage to our precious arteries.
How about instead of more GOVERNMENT REGULATION we demand that GMO labels be placed on GMO products. The government should stop subsidizing these commodities and should promote the production of whole grain non GMO agricultural products.
We don't need more regulation the entire agricultural industry needs to be dismantled and reconstructed.
+5 # Billy Bob 2012-03-09 14:25
You're making my argument for me. Complaining about a corrupt regulatory agency, when it's deregulation that has CAUSED the very corruption you're refering to is not an argument for less regulation but MORE. In this case REAL regulation would be more than what we have now.

Demanding that GMO labels be put on products IS GOVERNMENT REGULATION. How else do you propose we make any meaningful "demands"?
+4 # colvictoria 2012-03-09 17:57
Billy Bob I totally see your point but the problem is that the billion dollar food industry lobbyists slide a million dollar bill under the USDA regulators desk and say 'please do not place these labels on our food products or else people won't buy them'. These lobbyist have a lot of control over the USDA, FDA and other regulatory agencies. They have all been corrupted. I guess the never answered question is how do we get rid of the corruption? Greed for money & power corrupts and until we have people like a Michael Pollen,Eric Schlosser or
Alice Waters heading the USDA or FDA we will never have safe food or drugs.
+4 # Billy Bob 2012-03-09 20:26
I agree. Corruption is a HUGE problem and the only way to deal with it is aggressively. OWS is a good start, I just pray it doesn't run out of steam. Right now, most the entire system is corrupt, but the irony is that we need to USE the system to fix it. We have the overwhelming numbers on most issues already. We need to present a unified front.
0 # Valleyboy 2012-03-14 06:59
Yes! Well said
0 # Onterryo 2012-03-08 20:10
One might want to read more about this organization and its founder
+4 # colvictoria 2012-03-09 08:21
@ Onterryo,
Enjoyed that article! Thanks!
Although I get the monthly CSPI newsletter I too get a little perturbed with Michael Jacobson and his crew. This whole low-fat movement is what is making us fat as a nation. So we cut out the fat and we eat more carbs which in the end makes us fat. CSPI also pushed to remove beef/pork fat out of the restaurants and so they started using partially hydrogenated oils which according to many experts is poison to our arteries. These fats contain trans fats and clog up the arteries more so than regular natural fat from animals.
All you have to do to see the truth is look at the diet of an Inuit native. They eat mainly a high fat and protein diet from the marine mammals they capture. They do not suffer from diabetes or heart disease. They are actually very fit and healthy on their animal fat/protein diet.
+1 # Doubter 2012-03-10 21:40
Only by accident will I allow a "low fat" product enter my system!
(I'm 86 & planning on hanging around for a long time, assuming the (human) world doesn't give up before I do.
0 # James38 2012-03-17 10:49
Couldn't agree more, Doubter. Although I am only 73, I have the same attitude.
+4 # colvictoria 2012-03-09 08:01
Watch out for the phosphoric acid in these drinks it can lead to osteoporosis if one drinks lots of soda daily for years and years.
Also stay away from diet drinks as they contain sugar alcohols which are much sweeter than HFCS and sugar. People hooked on these crave sweets more and can actually lead to weight gain.
+4 # James38 2012-03-09 10:53
colvictoria, are you aware that the commercial use of phosphoric acid is removing rust from iron and steel? It reacts with the iron oxides and leaves a black coating of phosphorus compounds. Just what we need to drink. I have always wondered what they think they are accomplishing by putting this stuff in a drink. And why the FDA allows it? And it seems likely that it would react with essential iron compounds in our food and body, and result in loss of iron or creation of toxic or useless chemicals.

Is it just to make the drink more tart? That can be done with citric acid. I have no idea. Is it cheaper than citric acid?
-8 # flirtybirdie 2012-03-09 10:47
How long have we been drinking Coke and Pepsi? I think the government has it's nose in too many enterprises. How long has this carmel coloring been in these drinks? If it's been there from the beginning , we have not lost that many people from the carcinogen. We had the same scare about cranberries, and charcole , and allar in apples, . I think this is nonsense!
+5 # Billy Bob 2012-03-09 19:14
Coke and Pepsi are not exactly made from the same recipe they were 100 years ago. Many of these chemicals didn't even exist that long ago, and to actually make these drinks from the original recipes would make them A LOT more expensive.

This is about what they can get away with. Without laws with teeth, they can and will do whatever they want. That's what business for profit is all about.
+2 # Pickwicky 2012-03-10 18:05
Many years ago, Coke contained cocaine, hence its then and present name.
+5 # docww 2012-03-09 16:07
As I tell my patients, don’t get caught swatting mosquitoes when a tiger is about to strike. I suspect that 4-methylimidazo le is a mosquito. The tiger in carbonated beverages is the sugar, especially the fructose that makes up 50% of the sugar molecule.

It is now clear that excessive fructose is the primary driver of insulin resistance and central obesity. When a person with insulin consumes high glycemic carbohydrates, their brain is subjected to magnified glucose spikes. Because glucose in high doses is toxic to nerve cells, over time these glucose spikes seem to trigger a chronic brain disorder characterized by a long list of brain dysfunction symptoms. We now call this disease Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome. Because the brain plays a key role in auto-regulating fat stores, people with CARB syndrome start to store extra fat at any caloric intake.

It also appears that this disease process is behind the rising incidence of depression, ADHD, PTSD, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, fibromyalgia, bipolar II, obsessive compulsive disorder and similar brain conditions.

Excessive body fat and a brain that doesn’t work so well—our waiting rooms are now filled with people who fit this description. Think about it before you sit down to enjoy that soda and pizza.
+2 # Billy Bob 2012-03-09 19:15
Not to pry, but what kind of doctor are you? It's good to hear a doctor discussing this.
+1 # The Voice of Reason 2012-03-09 20:33
You can tell a lot about a society by what they put into their economies.

Humans prefer things we don't need and aren't good for us. And people's livelihoods depend on this worthless junk: junk food, fuel, weapons, alcohol.

The pending crash will catch so many people by surprise. But the top toppers will always take their cut before the bottom drops out on the rest of us.

Every economic system in place today is based on some form of unfairness. Communism is sheer criminality and force. Capitalism exploits the work force and is easily manipulated to enrich people who don't deserve riches. Socialism doesn't guarantee anyone anything.

The only system as yet untried is the Unity of Mankind. Who will investigate this system, or must it evolve out of the ruins of what was once a great society.
0 # Doubter 2012-03-10 21:54
I agree with your critique of the "isms," but after re-reading your post I am left wondering WHAT was the once great society you reference...?

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