A bottle of soda is photographed in Washington Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is conducting new studies of the safety of caramel coloring in soft drinks and other foods, even though previous research has shown no identifiable health risk. The agency's announcement comes in response to a study by Consumer Reports that shows varying levels of 4-methylimidazole _ an impurity formed in some caramel coloring at low levels during the manufacturing process _ in 12 brands of soda from five manufacturers. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
A new study from Consumer Reports shows some soda brands might contain high levels of 4-MeI, a chemical believed to be a carcinogen.
The study tested different cans and bottles of soft drink brands such as Coke, Pepsi and Malta Goya. They compared the level of 4-MeI found in those drinks to a California regulation stating products with more than 29 micrograms must display a warning label.
"While our sample size is not big enough to recommend one brand over another, all the cans of Pepsi One we tested were above 29 micrograms. And 15 of the 16 bottles of Malta Goya had more than ten times that level."
The FDA currently does not regulate levels of 4-MeI in foods, despite a 2007 study linking the chemical to lung cancer in lab mice. The agency is currently reviewing the available data about 4-MeI, and may decide to regulate it in the future.
But California's decision to regulate the chemical has already had a serious impact on the soda industry. NPR notes Coca-Cola modified its original recipe in 2012 to comply with California's standard.
Pepsi is also in the process of changing its formula, which should be finalized in February. But Consumerist notes Pepsi has defended the level of 4-MeI in its sodas in the past — by claiming people don't finish a can of soda in one day.
"The company cites government consumption data that shows that the average amount of diet soda consumed by people who drink it is 100 milliliters per day, or less than a third of a 12-ounce can. For that reason, they say Pepsi One does not require cancer-risk warning labels—even if the amount of 4-MeI in a single can exceeds 29 micrograms."
But before you chuck that can of Pepsi in the trash, ABC's chief health and medical editor notes it's still unclear whether the 4-MeI levels in soda can significantly impact people who drink it.
"You would need to drink more than 1,000 cans of soda every day to take in as much of the chemical as the mice that got cancer. So I'm not concerned. But if you are, look at the labels for the words 'caramel color', and then you have a choice."
A Pepsi representative responded to the Consumer Reports study by saying all Pepsi products are in full compliance with California law.