WASHINGTONThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to further investigate the safety of caramel colorings after Consumer Reports revealed that some soft drinks contained high levels of a potentially harmful carcinogenic, according to national media reports.
Meantime, California Attorney General Kamala Harris may be looking into whether PepsiCo is violating state law.
Consumer Reports found that 12-ounce samples of Pepsi One in The Golden State contained more than 29 micrograms of 4-methylimidazole (MeI) per can. Under California's Proposition 65 (otherwise known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986), food or beverages that expose consumers to more than 29 micrograms per day must carry a health warning label, the article said.
Consumer Reports revealed that it has asked for an investigation by the California Attorney General, which did not immediately return a phone call today seeking comment.
The state attorney general and private parties have the right to enforce the law.
PepsiCo told Consumer Reports it doesn't believe it is violating Prop 65 because the law is based on per day exposure rather than exposure per can and government data shows that people who drink diet soda on average consume less than one third of a 12-ounce can, or 100 milliliters per day. The company also said it "moved immediately to meet the new requirements" under Prop 65 and planned to make available nationwide products with lower levels of 4-MeI by February.
The findings were revealed as part of Consumer Reports' investigation into 4-MeI, which is found in caramel colorings.
According to Consumer Reports, the federal government has not imposed any limits on 4-MeI in food and beverages. Although national media reported that FDA will further examine caramel colorings, the agency said in a statement to NBC News: "Currently, the FDA has no reason to believe that 4-MEI, at the levels expected in food from the use of caramel colors, poses a health risk to consumers."
But Consumer Reports cited a 2007 government study that found 4-MeI causes cancer in mice as well as a determination four years later by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that the chemical is "possibly carcinogenic to humans".
Theres no reason why consumers should be exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food brown," said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., toxicologist and executive director of Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center, in the article. Manufacturers have lower 4-MeI alternatives available to them. Ideally there would be no 4-MeI in food."
Researchers who tested samples of Pepsi One and another beverage, Malta Goya, found that they contained more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI. Goya Foods, the owner of Malta Goya, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Consumer Reports tested 81 cans and bottles of various soft drinks from five manufacturers in California and New York. Some brands included levels of 4-MeI equal to or lower than 29 micrograms per can. Others including Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero were found to include 5 micrograms per can while Sprite "showed no significant" amount of the substance.