High levels of a potentially dangerous colouring agent found in UK Coca-Cola cans

Campaigners will today write to British health ministers demanding that companies cease the use of a chemical that is used in Coca-Cola, after it has been linked to causing cancer. The chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MI) is what provides the drinks with their unique colour and was shown in tests to be connected to cancer within some animals.

In March both Coca-Cola and Pepsi claimed that they had requested suppliers of this colouring to change their manufacturing processes in an attempt to reduce the levels of the dangerous chemical inside the drinks. In the U.S., The Center for Science in the Public Interest have stated that samples of Coca-Cola tested in nine different countries revealed an ’alarming amount’ of the chemical.

In California, legislation was introduced earlier this year that forces any drinks consumer to have a clear health warning on the side of a drinks can that has a 4-MI total of more than 30mcg. After this ruling, Coca-Cola subsequently acted swiftly and now all cans sold in California at least currently have only 4mcg of the dangerous chemical. However some Coke samples from Washington D.C. were shown to have 145 micrograms.

Despite the health warnings that are now well-known regarding the chemical, it is somewhat inexplicable and irresponsible of Coca-Cola to carry on allowing high amounts of 4-MI inside cans worldwide. Cans sold in the UK have been found to contain a staggering 135mcg. This has angered Malcolm Clark, one of the co-ordinators of the campaign to ban the chemical and he spoke in a national newspaper saying, “Coca-Cola seems to be treating its UK customers with disdain. The company should respect the health of all its customers around the world by using caramel colouring that is free of known cancer-causing chemicals. The UK Government must regulate to protect public health from companies that aggressively market sugar-laden drinks that lead to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”

Even worse, samples from Brazil contained 267 micrograms and samples from Kenya had 177 micrograms. The issue would appear to be cost related as manufacturers have stated that they are able to supply a caramel colour that is completely absent of 4-MI, however would be four times more pricey for them.

With sales of Coca-Cola roughly £1.1billion annually in the UK alone, clearly it is one of our most popular soft drinks. If you do enjoy the refreshing fizzy drink, it may not be time to start panicking just yet. An FDA spokesman declared earlier this year that people would have to consume “well over a thousand cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered in the studies that have shown links to cancer in rodents”. In addition, a spokesman from the British Soft Drinks Association has tried to dispel any public concern and said, “The 4-MI levels found in food and drink products pose no health or safety risks. Outside the state of California, no regulatory agency in the world considers the exposure of the public to 4-MI as present in caramels as an issue.”

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