Coke – Not Pepsi – Removes Carcinogenic Caramel Coloring

Pepsi Caramel Coloring

Cancer-Causing Ingredient Found in Pepsi Products Nationwide – Except California!

That’s the headline of the Center for Environmental Health’s efforts to expose Pepsi and its lackluster actions to remove of a carcinogenic caramel coloring ingredient 4-MEI. According to CEH, last year both Coke and Pepsi agreed to remove 4-MEI, a known carcinogen, from its caramel coloring. The move, however, was not borne out of corporate goodness. The state of California require companies to label products that contain known carcinogens and you can imagine that the two beverage giants didn’t want to do that. Last year both companies stated they would remove the 4-MEI.

Apparently Coke has done a decent job of removing 4-MEI but Pepsi has done so only in California. We know this because CEH tested Coke and Pepsi products across the country :

If you live in California, Coke and Pepsi products are made without 4-MEI, a chemical known to cause cancer. But in testing of cola products from ten states, CEH found high levels of 4-MEI in ALL Pepsi cola products, while 9 out of ten Coke products were found without 4-MEI problems.

caramel coloring pepsi

The CEH testing clearly shows that Coke has ditched the carcinogenic caramel coloring. Pepsi, on the other hand, now says that their products will not be made nationally without 4-MEI until next February 2014. Charles Margulis, the Center for Environmental Health’s Sustainable Food Program Director says:

“Pepsi has yet to explain why they are so behind on this or why it will take them another 8 months to do what Coke has already done. Pepsi needs to act more quickly to provide safer soda to America’s children and families.”

CEH has started a petition to Urge Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi to eliminate 4-MEI sooner rather than later.

Image Credit: Litter photo by Jennifer Kaplan, Creative Commons photo via Fillmore Photography

Written by Jennifer Kaplan

Jennifer Kaplan writes about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for Insteading (and before the two sites merged) and is the author of Greening Your Small Business. She is an Instructor at the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone and was named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster, an MFA and an MBA – follow her on Twitter.


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  1. Other than a sedentary life and crummy diet, I have no cancer risk factors. I drank regular Pepsi (and after the diabetes diagnosis, Diet Coke) like a fish. I do now have cancer. I am glad for the removal for sake of my grandkids.

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