The caramel coloring used in colas, as well as some beers, soy sauces and other foods which isn't the caramel your grandma used to make is a public health threat that could be a cancer risk, according to a petition filed with the Food and Drug Administration by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and five researchers who study the cancer-causing effects of chemicals on animals.
Unlike traditional caramel, which you can make at home by heating sugar in a saucepan, the caramel coloring in processed foods is often made by "reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures," according to the petitioners. That process, they say, can result in the formation of two chemicals (2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole) that have caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancers or leukemia in laboratory tests on mice or rats.
An authoritative government health agency, the National Toxicology Program has cited the evidence that the two chemicals are carcinogenic to animals, according to the petitioners. And California's health agencies have added one of the two chemicals to its list of "chemicals known to the state to cause cancer."
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Two out of four recognized ways of making caramel coloring use ammonia, and the petition seeks to stop the sanctioning of those two processes. It also seeks to compel companies to label those additives more clearly and to stop brands that use the synthetic caramel flavoring from labeling their products "natural" a food label term that is often misleading.
"Carcinogenic colorings have no place in the food supply, especially considering that their only function is a cosmetic one," said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has raised concerns about a range of food colorings and additives. "The FDA should act quickly to revoke its approval of caramel colorings made with ammonia."
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