There is a startling Consumer Report announcement this week that the respected organization has found a suspected cancer-causing chemical, 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI, in soft drinks. The presence of a human carcinogen will alarm many parents given the consumption of such drinks by children. The largest brand slammed in the report is Pepsi. It certainly makes the company’s “Live For Now” slogan a bit more menacing.
The chemical is used to add the brown color to soda and is found in other drinks like Coke. However, Coke has what is described as a “negligible cancer level” in any single can while Pepsi was much higher. Malta Goya, which is a Hispanic soft drink, is also particularly high in the chemical. California has recently required warned levels on the presence of 4-mei.
The possible market hit for Pepsi is huge. Many views Pepsi and Coke to be interchangeable and consumers may decide that Pepsi is “not 4-mei.”
We rarely let our kids drink soft drinks and, though I was once a huge consumer, I have been cutting back on my own consumption.
Pepsi responded to the study quickly by saying that the average amount of diet soda consumed by people is just 100 milliliters and thus the chemical is not a risk. That is not a particularly compelling spin since many people drink sodas in high quantities and one hundred milliliters is less than a third of a can of soda. A full can actually exceeds the California limit. As for Goya Foods, it is simply not responding which is equally chilling.
This could make for some legal challenges as a product defect, particularly when some companies have continued to use the chemical to a greater degree than others. With its main rival using less of the chemical, it is hard to argue that the reduction of the chemical would deprive Pepsi products of some essential component or ingredient. With the issuance of warnings in a major market like California, these companies are playing a dangerous game with a potential carcinogen in my view. The story also is likely to reaffirm the suspicion of many consumers that the federal government is not proactive in confronting major corporations on such risks.
Notably, this is not the first such danger associated with soft drinks. There is a growing movement to educate and discourage the consumption of the products. This is not just a movement linked to obesity but also diet sodas and the use of artificial sweeteners. This guy below may soon be viewed is a less than wholesome light if these studies continue to question the safety of that cultural American touchstone: the soda.