Caramel Carcinogen? Your Soda Pop Could Kill You

Feb 16, 2011
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.
Drink to rogue cells! (Photo: Steve Parker/Creative Commons)

"Caramel coloring" sounds like an innocuous ingredient, but it's damaging your health, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer watchdog group that filed a regulatory petition asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to give the additive the boot.

Why all the fuss?

"In contrast to the caramel one might make at home by melting sugar in a saucepan, the artificial brown coloring in colas and some other products is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures," explains the CSPI press release. "Chemical reactions result in the formation of 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole, which in government-conducted studies caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory mice or rats."

Recently, California added caramel coloring to its list of "chemicals known to the state to cause cancer," noting that "levels above 16 micrograms per day pose a significant risk." (See a pdf of the list here.) A can of cola contains 130 micrograms—a little less than ten times the daily allotment—says CSPI.

“Carcinogenic colorings have no place in the food supply, especially considering that their only function is a cosmetic one,” says CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson. “The FDA should act quickly to revoke its approval of caramel colorings made with ammonia.”

The American Beverage Association pooh-poohed the petition, stating, ""It’s getting ridiculous out there. Today, yet another outrageous and egregious attempt to dupe and scare the public was made, this time by an activist group called CSPI," reports the LA Times.

Photo by Steve Parker/Creative Commons via Flickr

Show Comments ()

More on TakePart

The Band Played On: Social Clubs Keep the Spirit of New Orleans Alive