Coca-Cola products have dropped a toxic chemical-containing form of caramel coloring after a 2011 California court order, but most Pepsi products in the U.S. still contain the poison at levels 4 to 8 times the recommended safe amount. According to National Public Radio’s food blog “The Salt,” Coke products no longer contain 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), whereas Pepsi has only changed the products it sells in California.
Under California’s Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, the state is required to publish a list of chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive or bodily harm. In 2011, the state added 4-MEI to that list, which would require all soft drinks containing the chemical to carry a cancer warning label like the ones found on cigarette packs.
Caramel coloring gives colas their distinctive dark brown color. Coke has switched to another form of caramel coloring that does not contain 4-MEI not just in California, but in the whole country. Pepsi, on the other hand, according to new analysis by the Center for Environmental Health, has only made the switch in areas covered under California law.
Research by the Center showed that 10 out of 10 Pepsi products purchased outside of California during the month of June 2013 still contain 4-MEI at levels “four to eight times higher than the safety thresholds set by California.”
Only 1 out of 10 non-Californian Coke products still contained the chemical.
“We applaud Coke,” said Michael Green of the Center in a written statement about the report. “Pepsi’s delay is inexplicable. We urge the company to swift action.”
When NPR contacted Pepsi, they assured reporter Allison Aubrey that there is nothing dangerous about their products. “The FDA and other regulatory agencies around the world, including the European Food Safety Authority and Health Canada, consider our caramel coloring safe for use in foods and beverages,” a spokesperson insisted.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration said in a 2012 statement that a person would have to drink 1,000 sodas per day to reach a carcinogenic dose of 4-MEI and the American Beverage Association said that the chemical is safe, saying that “the science simply does not show that 4-MEI in foods or beverages is a threat to human health.”
[People drinking cola with straws image via Shutterstock]