The chemicals known as 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole have previously been reviewed in government conducted studies. They have been shown to cause leukemia as well as cancers of the thyroid, lungs, and liver in mice. What does this mean to the average person? These chemicals are formed by chemical reactions that take place when sugars are combined with ammonia and sulfites at high temperatures and high pressure. This process is a quick and dirty way of creating artificial caramel coloring that is used in everything from baked goods, chocolate flavored products, soy sauce, and according to researchers at the University of California, at least 5 major brands of cola. This has recently become a major concern, as an ingredient that has been known to cause various types of cancer in lab tests is so widely used. Its use being entirely cosmetic is all the more reason for it to be removed, and thats exactly what the Center For Science In The Public Interest has in mind.
On 02/16/11 CSPI filed a petition with the FDA to have artificial caramel colorings banned from food products. The specific type of coloring used in colas is called Caramel IV, and is 1 of 2 types that are produced with ammonia. The other, Caramel III is typically used in beer and other food products. Research conducted by the National Toxicology Program found that the 2 chemicals that are byproducts of manufacturing the food coloring in this way are animal carcinogens. Their exact term was clear evidence, and for decades chemicals that are known to pose cancer risks in animals are also considered dangerous to humans for the same reasons.
Along with CSPI, 5 scientists (some of whom formerly worked for the National Toxicology Program) have joined in petitioning the FDA to ban these types of food colorings based on their potentially dangerous properties. In their letter to the FDA Commissioner they state The American public should not be exposed to any cancer risk whatsoever as a result of consuming such chemicals, especially when they serve a non-essential, cosmetic purpose.
Another part of the letter addresses how the term caramel coloring itself can be confusing and misleading given that it actually refers to artificial substances that contain cancer causing agents. When hearing the term, most people would take it to mean that the product being described was colored with caramel. There is little in common with this agent and the substance that can be obtained by simple melting down sugars. While still unhealthy, and potentially more cause for health risk than the coloring itself, the sugars added to sodas have at least one advantage: they dont cause cancer.
Center For Science In The Public Interest
CSPI Food Additives Information
CSPI Petition To The FDA