SB Brand-Led Culture Change 2024 - Last chance to save, final discount ends April 28th!

Pepsi to Phase Out Cancer-Causing Caramel Coloring

More than a year after pledging to reformulate its products to eliminate a cancer-causing chemical, Pepsi purchased from ten states still contains high levels of carcinogenic caramel coloring, according to independent testing commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) released last week.

More than a year after pledging to reformulate its products to eliminate a cancer-causing chemical, Pepsi purchased from ten states still contains high levels of carcinogenic caramel coloring, according to independent testing commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) released last week.

Last March, both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo stated they would be changing their caramel coloring in products nationwide as a result of Prop 65, a California law that requires labels on products containing cancer-causing ingredients. The CEH study shows that Coke has largely complied, but tests on Pepsi products show the company is still using caramel coloring containing the cancer-causing chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI) in all ten products tested from outside of California.

“This shows how California’s Proposition 65 law can make products safer for all Californians, and in some cases for all Americans,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “We applaud Coke for taking this health protective action for consumers nationwide. Pepsi’s delay is inexplicable. We urge the company to take swift action to provide all Americans with the same safer product they’re selling in California.”

CEH commissioned an independent lab to conduct 4-MeI testing on Coke and Pepsi products. The nonprofit purchased Coke and Pepsi this May in California, and tests show that both colas have been reformulated in the state. In early June, CEH asked ten supporters from across the country to send in Coke and Pepsi products purchased in their areas, which CEH then sent to the lab for testing. The lab tests found little or no 4-MeI in nine out of ten Coke products, but showed levels of 4-MeI from 4 to more than 8 times higher than California safety levels in all ten Pepsi products (click here for a chart showing the results).

Industrial production of caramel coloring creates 4-MeI as a by-product, but processing changes can reduce or eliminate production of the chemical without altering the coloring. California added 4-MeI to the state list of chemicals known to cause cancer after the National Toxicology Program found “clear evidence” of carcinogenicity of the chemical in animal studies. The CEH testing shows that consumers outside California who drink a single can of Pepsi twice a week are consuming more 4-MEI than the level that triggers a safety warning in California. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 48% of Americans drink soda daily, and that an average soda consumer drinks 2.6 glasses per day.

In response to the release of the study, PepsiCo Senior Director Aurora Gonzalez sent an email to CEH on Sunday, saying, “Our caramel coloring suppliers have been working on modifying the manufacturing process to reduce the amount of 4-MEI. As you know, 4-MEI levels in our products in California are below Prop 65 levels. The rest of the U.S. will be completed by February 2014. In fact, we’ll be starting the process and shipping concentrate end of this year.”

PepsiCo doesn't appear to be lagging in its other commitments to improve health, however: In March, the company announced it had reached its goal of helping three million people gain access to safe drinking water in Africa, Asia and Latin America two years ahead of schedule and now plans to double its target to helping six million by 2015

Advertisement