4-Methylimidazole, or 4-MEI, is chemical compound used as a caramel coloring ingredient in some sodas and dark beer – and it’s perfectly allowable under federal regulations.
But following research linking high doses of 4-MEI to cancer in rodents, California began listing the chemical as a probable carcinogen and requiring any product that contains it to be labeled as such.
Coke and Pepsi announced last March that they would rid their sodas of 4-MEI, under pressure from public interest groups, according to the Center for Environmental Health.
The Center commissioned an independent study this May to determine whether the companies had completed the transition. Cokes and Pepsis bought in California were found to be free of 4-MEI.
But while nearly all of the Coke products tested outside the Golden State were found to be free of the chemical, the Pepsi products tested positive for 4-MEI at levels four to eight times the amount that would trigger label requirements in California, the group said.
“Why has it taken Pepsi so long, if Coke was able to do it,” questioned Charles Margulis, director of the Center’s Food Program.
PepsiCo officials refuted the notion that its soda presents unsafe, in or out of California. In a written statement provided to The Hill, the company said it abides by the regulatory guidelines enforced in every place it does business.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and its counterparts in Canada and Europe consider the Pepsi’s caramel coloring safe, the company noted.
“In fact, the FDA has stated that a consumer would need to drink more than 1,000 cans of cola a day to even approach the doses that were used in the studies,” the company said.
Still, in adapting to the California standards, PepsiCo decided to shift away from 4-MEI elsewhere “in order to maintain a harmonized supply chain.”
“The work has been completed in California and several other U.S. states, and we are on track to complete the roll out by February 2014,” PepsiCo said.