Coke, Pepsi changing ingredients to avoid cancer warnings on products

Coca-cola and Pepsi are being forced to alter the way they make the caramel colouring that is added to their soft drinks in the US.

A new Californian law has changed the way drinks containing specified levels of carcinogens are labelled, meaning the drinks would have to carry cancer warning labels.

The beverage companies say they will continue to use caramel colouring but will make changes to the way it is manufactured too make it safer.

Coca-Cola representative, Diana Garza-Ciarlante, said the company has told the suppliers of the caramel to modify their manufacturing processes to reduce the levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole in the products.

Trace amounts of 4-methylimidazole are present in many foods, and many experts are concerned about the levels people are unwittingly consuming.

For the cancer side-effects to happen, a consumer would have to consume about 1000 cans per day.

"While we believe that there is no public health risk that justifies any such change, we did ask our caramel suppliers to take this step so that our products would not be subject to the requirement of a scientifically unfounded warning,” Garza-Giarlante said in a statement.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently examining a petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group in the US, filed a petition to ban the use of ammonia-sulfite caramel colouring.

Despite California’s decision to closely regulate the chemical, down in Australia authorities are less concerned.

"Colours are only permitted to be used if they have been assessed as safe for the intended use by FSANZ, including allowing for high consumers," a Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) told Food Magazine.

"Four different caramel colourings are permitted by FSANZ in many processed foods.

"The caramel in question is generally known as Caramel IV – in the Code this additive has to be declared in the ingredient list as Colour (Caramel IV) or Colour (150d) so that consumers can use this information when choosing food products.

"If new credible scientific information is available for this colouring (or any other permitted additive) FSANZ would review its safety assessment."

Aside from the fact that a person would have to consume 1000 cans per day to reach dangerous levels of the chemical, there is also concern that the only scientific research has been conducted on one group of mice.

Coca-cola Australia has confirmed it will not be changing its recipe without further scientific research.

"The science does not support California’s position, which applies only to that one state within the United States. There is no public health risk in California or anywhere else," a spokesperson said.

"All of our products are safe and comply with regulations in every country where we operate. Regulators throughout the world, including Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), have approved the use of the caramel found in our products."

Do you think 4-methylimidazole should be banned completely in Australia?