Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a petition Wednesday asking that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ban two types of carcinogenic chemicals often labeled as “caramel coloring,” most often on products like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other dark-colored colas.

According to CSPI, the artificial brown coloring is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures and those reactions “result in the formation of 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole, which in government-conducted studies caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory mice or rats.”

CSPI referred to a National Institutes of Health National Toxicology Program study that found “clear evidence” that both 2-MI and 4 MI are animal carcinogens. The state of California also recently added 4 MI to its list of “chemicals known to the state to cause cancer.” If the state goes forward with regulation, Coke, Pepsi and other soft drinks would be required to sport a cancer warning label, according to the group.

“Carcinogenic colorings have no place in the food supply, especially considering that their only function is a cosmetic one,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “The FDA should act quickly to revoke its approval of caramel colorings made with ammonia.”

Caramel III, a type of coloring produced with ammonia, but not sulfites, used to make certain types of beer, soy sauce, and other dark brown foods, is also being targeted by CSPI.

The trade group representing America’s food makers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a statement in response to the petition Wednesday denying CSPI’s claims.

“Ensuring the safety of our products – and maintaining the confidence of consumers – is the single most important goal of our industry.  Product safety is the foundation of consumer trust, and our industry devotes enormous resources to ensure that our products are safe.  Our companies continuously review and monitor all emerging science and scientific studies and incorporate these as warranted into our manufacturing practices to help ensure that we are always producing the safest possible product for our consumers,” read the statement.
“4-MEI is found in trace amounts in a wide variety of foods and beverages,” continued GMA. “There is no evidence that 4-MEI causes cancer or poses any other health risks to humans.  In addition, no health regulatory agency around the globe, including the FDA, has said that 4-MEI is a known human carcinogen.”