Sometimes it can be hard to disentangle the facts from the fiction in reports of scientific stories. The recent story about caramel colours is a case in point.
The fact that some of the world’s most famous and well-loved products could be dragged into the story made it extra newsworthy, but that does not change the underlying facts.
First of all, be in no doubt that caramel colours are safe. Four types of caramel colour are approved for use in the EU and are used in a wide range of food and drink products. Their safety is well-attested by independent study and the regulators agree.
The Food Standards Agency said: "The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently looked at 4-methylimidazole and concluded it does not pose a health risk to humans. Based on available evidence, the presence of 4-methylimidazole in colouring agents is not a food safety concern."
And Dr Hugues Kenigswald of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirmed in an interview on Belgian radio, after an analysis of how much 4-MEI could be ingested from the consumption of caramel colours, that: "The analysis concluded that the amount of 4-MEI that can be ingested through caramel colours poses no safety problem."
The scare in California was based on a single study of rats, with dosage levels that would in humans come from the equivalent of thousands of cans of drink a day. That is not the basis on which to base any serious doubts about an ingredient. The drinks are safe.
Next, the recipes of the leading drinks that use caramel colours have not been changed. What has been modified is the manufacturing process that is used to create the caramel ingredient, and that only in the territories that might otherwise attract a misleading labelling requirement. The drinks that consumers know and love are not changed.
The soft drinks industry remains committed to providing a range of safe and enjoyable drinks, and has been trusted to do so by millions of people for many years. Fulfilling that trust is the first priority for the industry, so we will respond to scare stories and set out the facts whenever necessary. The drinks that consumers love are safe to drink.
Richard Laming is media director, British Soft Drinks Association.
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