Another benefit of Prop 65: Reformulation of colas

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Less than one day after a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) provoked a media furor over the food police scare that a certain ingredient used in soda caramel coloring was a carcinogen, Coca-Cola and Pepsi announced that they have been in the process of reformulating their products to reduce the chemical in question: 4-MEI. Though the timing of this declaration caused many people to perceive that the soda industry was caving to pressure from CSPI, in fact the chemical adjustment was actually in the process of being implemented over the past few months in order to meet the rigorous standards of a California law called Proposition 65.

Under Proposition 65, businesses are required to notify consumers (usually via a warning label) if their products contain a substance known in the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. This list of hazardous chemicals now contains approximately 800 items. And since 4-MEI is on that list, soda manufacturers who sell their products in California were forced to either add a cancer warning label to their bottles and cans, or reformulate their ingredients to reduce the level of this chemical it s no surprise that they chose the latter.

While we believe that there is no public health risk that justifies any such change, we did ask our caramel suppliers to take this step, said Diana Garza Ciarlante, a Coca-Cola representative.

This latest move by Coke and Pepsi among other cola makers is just another example of the insidious effects of Proposition 65 and how America is under siege by the scare tactics of activists groups, says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. It would kill business for these companies to add a warning label alerting consumers that their ingredients are known to cause cancer. And given their large market, she adds, they wouldn t be able to manufacture a unique set of cans in accordance with California law. Let s not be confused though; this isn t caving these companies simply had no other choice.

In fact, Coca-Cola began reformulating their product last year, when they were first notified of the Proposition 65 requirements. But as Dr. Whelan points out, due to the timing and media attention, it made it seem as though the company was responding to the CSPI report, when in fact, it was just an unfortunate juxtaposition.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom not-so-gently poked fun at Proposition 65 in his op-ed in January. It can be found here.