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FDA Skeptical Chemical in Sodas Is Harmful to Consumers

Cancer-Causing Chemical Found in Coca-Cola, Pepsi
Pepsi and Coca-Cola delivery trucks in New York. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

U.S. regulators, reviewing an advocacy group’s complaint that a chemical used in colas causes tumors in animals, said there’s no immediate risk to consumers from the substance.

A person would have to drink more than a thousand cans of soda in a day to match the doses administered in studies that showed links to cancer in rodents, Douglas Karas, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokesman, said in a statement.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-health group in Washington, said in a statement today that high levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole were found in drinks made by Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo. Inc. The chemical is part of coloring used in colas and the subject of a study the group released today. An industry group disputed the findings.

“This is nothing more than scare tactics,” the American Beverage Association said in a statement today, calling the claims “outrageous.”

The FDA has no reason to believe consumers are in danger, the FDA’s Karas wrote in an e-mail. The agency is reviewing the group’s petition, he said.

The consumer group said it commissioned laboratory studies of products including Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Snapple Group Inc.’s Dr Pepper and Diet Dr Pepper, and Whole Foods 365 Cola from Washington-area stores.

“Coke and Pepsi, with the acquiescence of the FDA, are needlessly exposing millions of Americans to a chemical that causes cancer,” said Michael F. Jacobson, the Washington-based group’s executive director, in a statement. “The FDA needs to protect consumers from this risk.”

California Standards

Pepsi’s products, Diet Coke and regular Coca-Cola had levels that were high enough to require a warning notice in the state of California, according to the center’s release.

The chemical was included on California’s list of carcinogens even though there are no studies showing it causes cancer in humans, the industry group said.

Diana Garza Ciarlante, a spokeswoman at Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, said the chemical, also known as 4-MEI, poses no health or safety risks.

“Unlike CSPI, The Coca Cola company deals in hard facts,” she said in an e-mail. “ 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.”

No regulator agency concerned with protecting the public health has stated the chemical is a human carcinogen, she said.

Gillian Galasso, a spokeswoman at PepsiCo in Purchase, New York, didn’t respond immediately to a phone message seeking comment.

Libba Letton, a spokeswoman at Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc., didn’t immediately return a call and e-mail seeking comment, and a message left on the media relations line at Dr Pepper Snapple Group in Plano, Texas, wasn’t immediately returned.

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