Do You Know Nutrition: Soda companies making changes to avoid cancer warning label

By Phylis Canion
March 20, 2012 at midnight
Updated March 19, 2012 at 10:20 p.m.

Phylis Canion

Phylis Canion

What is the ingredient in the top-two leading colas that must be reduced or their labels will have to display a cancer warning?

You are correct that the top-two soda companies are making changes to their formula to avoid having their cans slapped with a cancer warning label. There are four types of caramel coloring, two of which are produced with ammonia, two without.

The type used in colas and other dark soft drinks is known as Caramel IV, or ammonia sulfite processed caramel. Levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a component of caramel coloring, are found in these sodas. The change comes following a California law, Proposition 65, that demands drinks with a certain level of carcinogens display a warning.

The National Toxicology Program, the division of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, that conducted animal studies, stated there is clear evidence that 4-MEI are animal carcinogens. Chemicals that cause cancer in animals are considered to pose cancer threats to humans as well.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis, found significant levels of 4-MEI in five brands of colas. All current research and information has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of this reagent in colas.

I see labels on chicken that says "free-range." Has that always been, or has it only recently been included on labels?

The only requirement the USDA has for birds labeled free-range is that they are not kept in pens. To be more specific, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service require that chickens, raised for their meat, have access to the outside in order to receive free-range certification.

Having free access to outside range areas eliminates the exposure to piles of toxic dust, bacteria, parasites and viral infections from cages. Free ranging dates back to the 1950s, when approximately 80 percent of chickens in Europe and the United States were free range.

By 1980, sadly, only 1 percent of chickens were deemed free range. Today, only about 13 percent of chickens in the west are referred to as free ranging. To be listed on a label as "Free Range," producers must demonstrate to the Department of Agriculture that the birds have been allowed access to the outside.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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