Oh noes – chemicals in colas!

Now I am not normally one for defending evil multinational corporations, but my sympathies lie with Coca-Cola and Pepsi when it comes to them being forced to include cancer warning labels on bottles of their fizzy beverages.

The issue at stake here is caramel colourings, and in particular the organic chemical compound known as 4-methylimidazole, which has been linked to cancer in lab rodents. California recently added 4-MEI to its list of carcinogens, and therein lies the problem for Coke and Pepsi. The only alternative to revising recipes would be to put a scary warning label on cola bottles.

What is 4-MEI? It is a compound formed naturally in the browning of sugars. It is found in many roasted and fermented foods, and is included in caramel colourings produced with ammonia-based processes. Put simply, eat stuff, and you cannot avoid ingesting 4-MEI.

And what of the health risk? The 2007 study that led to California declaring 4-MEI as hazardous to human health involved feeding laboratory mice and rats with levels of the substance equivalent to that consumed by an habitually belching teenager with a 1,000 can a day cola habit.

Californian policymakers would benefit greatly from further education classes in remedial arithmetic. Even with a huge spending deficit, the public purse could surely stretch to it.