Monday, March 12, 2012

Coke and Pepsi Hear It From The Food Police - March 8th, 2012
Coca-Cola (KO 0.00%), PepsiCo (PEP 0.00%) and the rest of the carbonated beverage industry have become public enemy No. 1 for the nation's self-appointed food police, and the battle is far from over.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) on Monday announced that it had found "high levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MI), a known animal carcinogen" in samples of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi that the group analyzed. The chemical is a byproduct of the manufacturing process used to create the distinctive brown caramel color in these popular beverages.

Wall Street shrugged off the news, with shares of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo not showing much reaction during Monday trading. KO barely budged, and PEP was up 0.4% on the day. Still, investors should take the CSPI test seriously because it can be a formidable foe to the food industry. Among CSPI's other fights are one withMcDonald's (MCD 0.00%) over the marketing of Happy Meal toys to kids.

The CSPI, which petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban ammonia sulfate food coloring in February 2011, has been at odds with the soda industry for years. The group is one of the leading proponents of levying additional taxes on soft drinks to attack America's obesity epidemic.

However, the CSPI's theories have several flaws.

First, just because a chemical causes cancer in animals does not necessarily mean it will also prove to be a human carcinogen. Also, just because something causes cancer in a laboratory doesn't mean it will trigger the disease in the real world.

"Is it a carcinogen? The tests have shown in mice it can increase the risk of cancer," said Dr. Fred Guengerich, professor of biochemistry at Vanderbilt University in an interview last year with ABC News. "On the other hand, there is also evidence in male rats, it prevented several kinds of cancer."

Not surprisingly, the American Beverage Association (ABA) trade group rejected the CSPI's arguments. "This is nothing more than CSPI scare tactics, and their claims are outrageous," the ABA said in a statement. "The science simply does not show that 4-MEI in foods or beverages is a threat to human health. In fact, findings of regulatory agencies worldwide, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, European Food Safety Authority and Health Canada, consider caramel coloring safe for use in foods and beverages."

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