The colouring agent is used in drinks including Pepsi and Coca-Cola

The colouring agent is used in drinks including Pepsi and Coca-Cola

The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) has defended the use of a colouring ingredient after UK health campaigners called for a ban due to an alleged link to cancer.

The BSDA said levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), found in brands including Pepsi and Coca-Cola, were safe and posed no health risk. Pressure group Children's Food Campaign will ask the UK government to outlaw 4-MEI, according to a report in the Daily Mail today (26 June). The group said labratory tests found it caused cancer in mice and rats. 

Coca-Cola reduced 4-MEI levels in its US drinks in March after California health authorities added the ingredient to its list of potentially harmful chemicals. Regular US cans of Coca-Cola now only contain four micrograms of 4-MEI compared to 135mcg in the UK.

In a statement today, the BDSA said: “The science around 4-MEI in foods or drinks does not support the proposal for a ban of caramel colours containing 4-MEI. 

“The 4-MEI levels found in food and drink products pose no health or safety risks. Outside the State of California, no regulatory agency around the world considers the exposure of the public to 4-MI as present in caramels as an issue.”

Asked to respond to the claims, the Coca-Cola Company reissued a statement it gave in the wake of the California ruling, saying: “All of our products are safe and in full compliance with all federal and state requirements.

“We intend to expand the use of the reduced 4-MEI caramel globally as this will allow us to streamline and simplify our supply chain, manufacturing, and distribution systems. Our timeline for this effort is still being developed.”

Coca-Cola and the BDSA both highlighted a statement from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) earlier this year that said 4-MEI posed no health risks to humans.

“Based on available evidence, the presence of 4-methylimidazole in colouring agents is not a food safety concern,” the EFSA said.

In March, the US Food and Drug Administration said in a statement that "a consumer would have to consume well over a thousand cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered in the studies that have shown links to cancer in rodents".