C.S.P.I. calls for ban of two caramel colorings

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — A regulatory petition filed with the Food and Drug Administration by the Center for Science in the Public Interest calls for the banning of the caramel colorings ammonia sulfite process caramel coloring, also known as Caramel IV, and Caramel III, which is produced with ammonia but not sulfites. The colorings are used in the manufacture of soft drinks, beer, soy sauce and other foods.

Both the American Beverage Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association reacted strongly to the petition and proclaimed the two colorings to be safe.

At issue is the creation of two compounds, 2-methylimidazole (2-MEI) and 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), which are formed when sugars with ammonia and sulfites are subjected to high pressure and temperatures. The C.S.P.I. claims government-conducted studies showed the compounds caused lung, liver or thyroid cancer in laboratory mice or rats. The C.S.P.I. cited research conducted by the National Toxicology Program, a division of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, that conducted animal studies and found “clear evidence” that both 2-MI and 4-MI are animal carcinogens.

The A.B.A. said 4-MEI is not a threat to human health. “There is no evidence that 4-MEI causes cancer in humans,” the association said. “No health regulatory agency around the globe, including the Food and Drug Administration, has said that 4-MEI is a human carcinogen. This petition is nothing more than another attempt to scare consumers by an advocacy group long-dedicated to attacking the food and beverage industry.”

The G.M.A. noted that the compound 4-MEI is found in trace amounts in a variety of foods and beverages and iterated there is no evidence that the compound causes cancer or poses any other health risks to humans.

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