CSPI: Caramel Coloring in Coke, Pepsi Can Cause Cancer; Industry Disputes Claim

Consumer group wants the FDA to ban two caramel colorings made with ammonia.

ByABC News
February 16, 2011, 12:40 PM

Feb. 16, 2011 -- A major consumer group today called for a government ban on two types of caramel coloring used in colas, warning that the ingredients could cause cancer. The soft drink industry came out swinging, strongly objecting to the claim.

"We're asking the FDA to ban the use of caramel coloring that's used in colas and certain other soft drinks and a variety of other foods," said Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "The reason is that several years ago a government agency, the National Toxicology program tested a contaminant in the coloring and found that it caused cancer in mice and possibly rats."

According to the CSPI, pure caramel is made by heating sugar, while the coloring found in cola like Pepsi and Coca-Cola is made by reacting sugars with ammonia. Jacobson said the chemicals the reaction produces have been proven by federal government tests to be carcinogens, a finding that the Coca-Cola Company vehemently disputes.

"CSPI's statement irresponsibly insinuates that the caramel used in our beverages is unsafe and maliciously raises cancer concerns among consumers," the company said in a statement. "This does a disservice to the very public for which CSPI purports to serve. In fact studies show that the caramel we use does not cause cancer."

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC.

There are currently four types of caramel coloring approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the CSPI wants the FDA to prohibit the two made with ammonia, 4-MEI and 2-MEI. David Schmidt, president & CEO of the International Food Information Council also challenged CSPI's statement.

"Once again advocates are picking a chemical of the day to needlessly scare consumers," he wrote. "The primary studies linking MEIs to cancer showed varying effects in male and female mice and rats when each were tested at extremely high doses. In fact, further studies indicated that MEIs may offer a reduced risk of cancer."