(WASHINGTON) -- A major consumer group called for a government ban Wednesday on two types of caramel coloring used in colas, warning that the ingredients could cause cancer. The soft drink industry came out swinging, strongly objecting to the claim.
"We're asking the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of caramel coloring that's used in colas and certain other soft drinks and a variety of other foods," said Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "The reason is that several years ago a government agency, the National Toxicology Program, tested a contaminant in the coloring and found that it caused cancer in mice and possibly rats."
According to the CSPI, pure caramel is made by heating sugar, while the coloring found in cola like Pepsi and Coca-Cola is made by reacting sugars with ammonia. Jacobson said the chemicals the reaction produces have been proven by federal government tests to be carcinogens, a finding that the Coca-Cola Company vehemently disputes.
"CSPI's statement irresponsibly insinuates that the caramel used in our beverages is unsafe and maliciously raises cancer concerns among consumers," the company said in a statement. "This does a disservice to the very public for which CSPI purports to serve. In fact, studies show that the caramel we use does not cause cancer."
For now, the FDA tells ABC News that it, along with the World Health Organization, has been studying these chemicals and their potential effects on humans. The FDA says it will respond to CSPI's petition in accordance with required timelines.
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