A study released in March 2012 found both Pepsi and Coca Cola contained a carcinogenic caramel coloring, 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MeI. Both companies promised they would reformulate their beverages in response to a California law requiring labels on products with cancer-causing ingredients.
A follow-up study by the Center for Environmental Health found that Coca Cola had successfully changed its ingredients to remove all or most of the 4-MeI from nine out of 10 of its products. Pepsi, however, still had high levels of 4-MeI in all 10 Pepsi beverages tested outside of California.
“This shows how California’s Proposition 65 law can make products safer for all Californians, and in some cases for all Americans,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “We applaud Coke for taking this health protective action for consumers nationwide."
"Pepsi’s delay is inexplicable," he said. "We urge the company to take swift action to provide all Americans with the same safer product they’re selling in California.”
Industrial production of the caramel coloring causes 4-MeI as a byproduct, but it can be easily removed without altering the coloring, the CEH said.
After the National Toxicology Program found "clear evidence" that 4-MeI is carcinogenic, California added the chemical to the list of chemicals required to be listed on food product labels under Prop 65.
PepsiCo responded to the CEH's announcement, saying that changes nationally are underway.
"Our caramel coloring suppliers have been working on modifying the manufacturing process to reduce the amount of 4-MeI," said PepsiCo senior director Aurora Gonzalez. "As you know, 4-MeI levels in our products in California are below Prop 65 levels. The rest of the U.S. will be completed by February 2014. In fact, we’ll be starting the process and shipping concentrate end of this year."
The Pepsi products tested in various locations nationwide were Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Throwback Made with Real Sugar, Pepsi Max Zero Calories, Pepsi One-Zero Calories, and Miniature Pepsi.