Pepsi: Cancer for a new generation?

John Upton, Grist

Please don’t take this as an endorsement. But when it comes to avoiding cancer while you gulp down a sugar-blasting brand-name cola, Coke is it.

Pepsi has been lagging behind its main competitor in removing carcinogenic meth from its flagship cola product. Well, 4-methylimidazole, to be precise.

The chemical can form in trace amounts when caramel coloring used in cola is cooked. It has been found to cause cancer in rats.

Everybody who drinks corporate soda has been drinking the stuff for years. That was supposed to come to an end after California began requiring cancer warnings on products containing elevated levels of 4-methylimidazole. The new regulations prompted Coke and Pepsi to announce early last year that they would take steps to remove the chemical from their products nationwide.

But the Center for Environmental Health tested colas and found that while Californians are drinking safer sodas than they were before, some of the colas sold outside of California still contain high levels of the substance. From the nonprofit’s website:

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.


Pepsi swears it’s on it. From the AP:

Pepsi said its caramel coloring suppliers are changing their manufacturing process to cut the amount of 4-Mel in its caramel. That process is complete in California and will be finished in February 2014 in the rest of the country. Pepsi said it will also be taken out globally, but did not indicate a timeline.

You know, Pepsi and Coke, you could also just stop using caramel food coloring in your colas. But, then, clear cola would just be caffeinated sugar water. And that would be much harder to market as a sexy elixir.