London: An influential health lobby group has urged the US government to ban an artificial brown colouring agent used in Coca-Cola and Pepsi, warning that the ingredients could cause cancer.
“The caramel colouring used in Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other foods is contaminated with two cancer-causing chemicals and should be banned,” the Daily Mail quoted the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a health lobby group based in Washington, DC, as saying.
While pure caramel is made by melting sugar in a saucepan, the artificial brown colouring in colas is made by reacting sugars and ammonia and sulphites under high temperatures and pressure.
“Chemical reactions result in the formation of two substances known as 2-MI and 4-MI which in government-conducted studies caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukaemia in laboratory mice or rats, said the CSPI.
America’s National Toxicology Program said that there is ‘clear evidence’ that both 2-MI and 4-MI are animal carcinogens, and therefore likely to pose a risk to humans.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, found significant levels of 4-MI in five brands of cola.
CSPI executive director Michael F Jacobson has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to take action.
“Carcinogenic colourings have no place in the food supply, especially considering that their only function is a cosmetic one,” he said.
Jacobson said the name ‘caramel colouring’ does not accurately describe the additives, explaining: “It’s a concentrated dark brown mixture of chemicals that simply does not occur in nature”.
He added that while regular caramel could not be described as healthy, ‘at least it is not tainted with carcinogens’.
U.S. regulations distinguish between four types of caramel colouring, two of which are produced with ammonia and two without it.
The CSPI wants the two made with ammonia to be banned and has received backing from five prominent cancer experts.
The type used in colas and other dark soft drinks is known as Caramel IV, or ammonia sulphite process caramel. Caramel III, which is produced with ammonia but not sulphites, is sometimes used in beer, soy sauce, and other foods.
The CSPI admitted that any risk associated with consumption of the chemicals would be extremely small.
However, it argued the levels of 4-MI in the tested colas still may be causing thousands of cancers.