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Cancer-causing chemical found in cola drinks, but is it dangerous?

March 05, 2012|By David Colker
  • Too much 4-methylimdazole in Coca-Cola?
Too much 4-methylimdazole in Coca-Cola? (Associated Press )

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says its testing has found "high levels" of an animal carcinogen, 4-methylimidazole, in Coca-Cola and Pepsi cola drinks.

The chemical is a result of the process used to give the colas -- including the diet versions -- their caramel coloring.

But the federal Food and Drug Administration said there is not much to worry about, according to Bloomberg News. Agency spokesman Douglass Karas said Monday in a statement that a human would have to drink more than a thousand cans of the drinks in a day to reach the chemical level shown to cause cancer in rodents. 

And the American Beverage Assn. quickly put out a statement calling claims by the science group "outrageous."

"The science simply does not show the 4-MEI in foods or beverages is a threat to human heath," the trade group said.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, however, said it found that regular Coke, purchased in theWashington, D.C., area, had about 145 micrograms of the stuff in a 12-ounce can, while Pepsi had about half that. California regulations require that a product have a warning if the level of the chemical is above 29-micrograms, the CSPI said.

Pepsi told the science group that it has switched to a coloring process in California that results in far less of the chemical, and will soon use that process nationwide. Coke, Bloomberg said, did not comment directly, referring questions to the American Beverage Assn.

Even though the CSPI made the chemical sound dire in its statement, the group said it is was by far not the most dangerous ingredient in regular colas.

"Soda drinkers should be much more concerned about the high-fructose corn syrup or other sugars used in soft drinks," the CSPI statement said. "Soda drinkers are much more likely than non-soda drinkers to develop weight gain, obesity, diabetes and other health problems."

Related:

Climbing the corporate ladder "Inside Coca-Cola."

McDonald's sued over Happy Meals.

PepsiCo announces new all-plant-based plastic bottle.

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