FDA Doesn't Think You Should Be Scared of Soda

Mar 6, 2012

For over a year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has been on a crusade to ban caramel (technically called 4-MEI) used to color soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi because it causes cancer in lab rats.

Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that the FDA responded with skepticism:

A person would have to drink more than a thousand cans of soda in a day to match the doses administered in studies that showed links to cancer in rodents, Douglas Karas, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokesman, said in a statement.


The FDA has no reason to believe consumers are in danger, the FDA’s Karas wrote in an e-mail.

The American Beverage Association points out that the FDA's statement is similar to other regulatory bodies that have come to the same conclusion:

As recently as last November, Health Canada said that 4-MEI, including that found in certain caramel colors, does “not represent a risk” to consumers.  In March 2011, following a comprehensive review of the scientific literature, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reaffirmed the safety of 4-MEI and stated that the presence of 4-MEI in caramel coloring is not a health concern.  And the National Toxicology Program (NTP) does not even list 4-MEI as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” in its Report on Carcinogens (Source: Report on Carcinogens, Twelfth Edition. http://1.usa.gov/iId3qz)

While CSPI continues scaring people, I'm grabbing a Coke Zero.

UPDATE (3/12/2012): I'm posting this statement from Ben Sheidler of Coca-Cola:

Unlike CSPI, The Coca-Cola Company deals in hard facts.  Fact:  The body of science about 4-MEI in foods or beverages does not support the erroneous allegations that CSPI would like the public to believe.  The 4-MEI levels in our products pose no health or safety risks.  Outside of California, no regulatory agency concerned with protecting the public's health has stated that 4-MEI is a human carcinogen.  The caramel color in all of our ingredients has been, is and always will be safe. That is a fact. 

Here are additional facts:

  • Fact: In 2009, Coca-Cola was the first company in the beverage industry to make front-of-pack energy labeling a global commitment for nearly all of our products and to have the majority of the global rollout complete by 2012.
  • Fact:  In 2010, Coca-Cola introduced the 7.5-ounce mini can.  Today, Coca-Cola can be enjoyed in a 90-calorie can.  So can Sprite, Fanta, Coke Zero and Diet Coke.
  • Fact:  In 2006, Coca-Cola and several other beverage companies, helped institute national school beverage guidelines in the U.S. that effectively accelerated the shift from full-calorie soft drinks to no- and low-calorie options.  Today, nearly 98 percent of schools in the United States are in compliance with these voluntary guidelines.  Since 2006, the industry has reduced the amount of beverage calories delivered to schools by 88 percent.
  • Fact:  Coca-Cola joined with the American Beverage Association and our industry partners to launch the Clear on Calories initiative and voluntarily committed to putting the information on the front of all our packages, vending machines and fountain machines.

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