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To avoid labeling packages with a cancer warning, big name companies Coca-Cola and Pepsi are eliminating and changing ingredients in their brand name sodas. According to representatives of the companies, the change will not be noticeable.

Got Coke?

The chemical in question is 4-methylimidazole or 4-MI. In January of this year 4-MI made its way onto a list of chemicals that were covered in Proposition 65 of the California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. The California statute says that "no person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving a clear and reasonable warning."


This particular chemical, 4-MI, and others on the list are labeled as ‘not safe for human consumption’ by the Food and Drug Administration, and high levels of 4-MI has been linked to cancer in animals. According to sources, the 4-MI is in the caramel coloring that is in Pepsi and Coke products.

What’s In Your Soda?

Consumers who love their Coke products and those individuals who favor Pepsi with both be able to continue to enjoy the great taste of their soda of choice. Ben Sheidler, a Coca-Cola spokesperson reported that the modification was to the manufacturing process and this will by no means change the taste or enjoyment of their products. Calling the warning label ‘scientifically unfounded’, Coca-Cola conveys that there is no public health risk that justifies any adjustment, but they are making the change to evade the label.

Petition the Pop

The researchers for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) maintains that they found unsafe levels of this chemical (4-MI) in cans of Coca-Cola, Pepsi cola, Dr. Pepper, and Whole Foods Market Inc.’s 365 Cola. A petition was started to have 4-MI removed from the drinks. Regardless of whether it is taken out or not, the FDA reports they are “reviewing” the CSPI’s petition but maintains that the drinks are still safe to consume. One spokesperson for the FDA reported that a person would have to drink over a thousand cans of soda a day to reach the equivalent doses that have been administered to rodents who developed cancer.

Sweet Circumstances

You may be surprised to find out that this carcinogen is not the only dangerous chemical found in Coca-Cola products. These sodas have high amounts of fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that reeks havoc on the health of both children and adults. Hello, obesity epidemic? Fructose corn syrup has been rumored to contain mercury, too, a substance that is toxic to the human consumer. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is very disturbed over the effect that increased mercury exposure has on young kids.


If that is not enough to worry about, remember Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi products contain aspartame, an artificial sweeter that has been linked to cancer. One study showed the rats spawning tumors the size of golf balls when they were given the sugar substitute. Around 67 percent of the females had these large growths. According to researcher Innes-Brown, the dose of aspartame given to these rodents was equivalent to 14 cans of diet soda.

Since Coca-Cola apparently views these issues as not real concern, the general public can only wonder, “is the health and welfare of the consumer secondary to the health and welfare of profits?”

  • Geller, M. (2012). Coke, Pepsi make changes to avoid cancer warning. Retrieved from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/09/us-coke-pepsi-idUSBRE82814V20120309
  • Gucciardi, A. (2012) Coca-cola removes carcinogen to avoid cancer-warning label. Retrieved from: http://naturalsociety.com/coca-cola-removes-carcinogen-to-avoid-cancer-warning-label/
  • Photo courtesy of xelcise on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/xelcise/5786300867