The two biggest soda companies in the U.S. say that it isn't the possible cancer link in an additive that's causing them modify their manufacturing process--it's the cancer warning they'd have to put on their packaging that actually changed their minds.
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Regardless of their motives, this is a good thing, and not just for hypochondriacs and heavy soda drinkers. Despite officials at the American Beverage Association (ABA) and Coca-Cola telling reporters that there aren't any health risks associated with 4-methylimidazole, it's on California's list of carcinogens and according to the BBC and The Guardian, California has a new law that requires companies to put a warning label on products containing the ingredient. So even if you weren't concerned about 4-methylimidazole's link to cancer in rats and mice (it still hasn't been shown to cause cancer in humans, according to the ABA) you can thank the possible marketing headache for the change.
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You're probably wondering if this will change your soda-drinking experience. "Consumers will notice no difference in our products and have no reason at all for any health concerns," the ABA said in a statement picked up by The Guardian.
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Update, 2:50 pm EST: Coca-Cola has issued a statement clarifying what they're doing:
The caramel color in all of our products has been, is and always will be safe, and The Coca-Cola Company is not changing the world-famous formula for our Coca-Cola beverages. Over the years, we have updated our manufacturing processes from time to time, but never altered our Secret Formula.
We have asked our caramel manufacturers to modify their production process to reduce the amount of 4-MEI in the caramel, but that will have no effect on the formula or on the great-tasting, high-quality products that consumers expect from us. These modifications will not affect the color or taste of Coca-Cola .