4-MI (aka 4-MEI) is a byproduct of the caramel coloring classically used in Coke and Pepsi. New articles on its effect on the public have people scared (again). The new information being spread has reminded us that this chemical is a mild carcinogen. Because the FDA could require cancer warnings on their products, these two soda giants are almost certainly going to change their formulas.
Structural Formula for 4-Methylimidazole
"4-Methylimidazole (4MI) is used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, photographic chemicals, dyes and pigments, cleaning and agricultural chemicals, and rubber. It has been identified as a by-product of fermentation in foods and has been detected in mainstream and side stream tobacco smoke."
Statements of 4-MEI as a carcinogen:
"... 4MI is carcinogenic inducing alveolar/bronchiolar adenoma and carcinoma in male and female mice. 4MI may also induce mononuclear cell leukemia in female rats."
"4-Methylimidazole meets the criteria for listing as known to the State to cause cancer under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Health and Safety Code Section 25249.5 et seq.)"
-California EPA 
How does this chemical byproduct get into soda?
Heating up sugar (specifically dextrose) is how this caramel coloring is created. The caramel in itself is harmless. However, ammonia salts are added specifically to intensify the color. This reacts with the sugars as they degrade, creating 4-MEI!
University of Nottingham's Periodic Videos series explains it very well:
Video Credit: University of Nottingham / Brady Haran / Periodic Videos
An alternate view. Is it all a scare?
"...this is on the extreme end of silly to me. You can take almost any chemical we're exposed to routinely, give rats or mice enormous doses of it, and see increased risks of cancer."
-Mark Hoofnagle's take after lengthy research [a PhD in physiology, a general surgeon, yet humbly admits that he's not an expert in toxicology]
-Via ScienceBlogs / Denialism Blog
As it turns out, drinking 1000+ cans a day puts you in danger. That's a comically massive amount.
9 paragraphs down in ScienceBlogs / Denialism, Mark Hoofnagle explains specific dosages if you're interested.
CSPI overblows the cancer risk of caramel coloring in soda
Nevertheless, the CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest-(Official site / Wikipedia) is calling for the mandatory removal of caramel color in our foods.
Coca Cola's response seems strange to me. They don't point out the dosage-to-risk factor. Instead they take on an arrogant tone and dismiss both the CSPI and the California EPA's evaluation.
"Unlike CSPI, The Coca-Cola Company deals in hard facts," said company representative Ben Sheidler in an e-mailed statement to Food Safety News. "Fact: The body of science about 4-MEI in foods or beverages does not support the erroneous allegations that CSPI would like the public to believe. The 4-MEI levels in our products pose no health or safety risks. Outside of California, no regulatory agency concerned with protecting the public's health has stated that 4-MEI is a human carcinogen. The caramel color in all of our ingredients has been, is and always will be safe. That is a fact."
-Ben Sheilder, Coca Cola Rep
via Food Safety News
In the news as early as Feb. 2011, CSPI pushed the topic:
"FDA Urged to Prohibit Carcinogenic "Caramel Coloring"
California did respond. The FDA might jump in.
The state of California has banned 4-MI in any amount that could potentially lead to one cancer case in 100,000 people. However the levels found in these 4 leading Cola brands indicated a lifetime risk of 5 cancers out of 100,000, assuming that people drink one soft drink per day. That risk rises to 10 cancers out of 100,000 people who drink only soft drinks containing caramel coloring.
-ScienceBlogs / Denialism
Enter Crystal Pepsi!
Pepsi-Cola has not announced its comeback.
Pepsi-Cola has not announced its comeback.
However, this is why I think Crystal Pepsi needs to be resurrected:
Conveniently, Pepsi-Cola already has a "formula" in their pocket, circa 1992, that could turn this negative media attention into a great opportunity. It's the same ol' Pepsi, without caramel color or caffeine.
For round 2, they have, in my opinion an exponentially greater chance of success in the market.1 - They have NOSTALGIA on their side, very strong in those old enough to remember its first run.
2 - The coloration change will not have the same effect on the public because we are already familiar with the product.
3 - This, as a response to 4-MEI news, shows responsibility and responsiveness.
4 - Coca-Cola's plan of action so far is no action. Pepsi's action in itself (IF they respond to my plea) draws attention to this. Thus, Pepsi would look like the good guys.
5 - To "sweeten" the deal, they save money by eliminating two ingredients.
6 - I have an irrational love for Crystal Pepsi.
The original rollout fell flat back in the early nineties, for reasons I describe in detail in my Crystal Pepsi sister post:
...Just stay away from the diet version..."Daily diet soda tied to higher risk for stroke, heart attack"
Or, for a much better source,
"Daily diet soft drink consumption was associated with several vascular risk factors and with an increased risk for vascular events. Further research is needed before any conclusions can be made regarding the potential health consequences of diet soft drink consumption. "
Chan, P., Hills, G., Kissling, G., & Nyska, A. (2007). Toxicity and carcinogenicity studies of 4-methylimidazole in F344/N rats and B6C3F1 mice Archives of Toxicology, 82 (1), 45-53 DOI: 10.1007/s00204-007-0222-5
National Toxicology Program (NTP, 2007) (2007). Chemical Meeting The Criteria For Listing As Causing Cancer Via The Authoritative Bodies Mechanism: 4-Methylimidazole NTP Technical Report Series (535) Other: NIH: 07-4471
Gardener, H., Rundek, T., Markert, M., Wright, C., Elkind, M., & Sacco, R. (2012). Diet Soft Drink Consumption is Associated with an Increased Risk of Vascular Events in the Northern Manhattan Study Journal of General Internal Medicine DOI: 10.1007/s11606-011-1968-2
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