What Proposition 65 is and why it matters to cola drinkers and manufacturers

California voters approved an initiative in 1986 that addressed their concerns about toxic chemical exposure. The initiative, Proposition 65, is also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Every year the state of California is required to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. Chemical that make the list can be natural or synthetic.

How do chemical get added to the list? There are four ways:

1)  One of two independent committees of scientists/health professionals find the chemicals can cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm;

2)  An “authoritative body” has identified the chemical can cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm;

3) A state or federal agency requires that the chemical/product containing the chemical be labeled or identified as causing cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm;

4) Chemicals meeting certain scientific criteria and identified in the California Labor Code as causing cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm.

 For more details see the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment website.

Why does this matter to cola drinkers and manufacturers?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released results of lab tests that found unsafe levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) in Coca-Cola, Pepsi cola, Dr Pepper, and Whole Foods’ 365 Cola. 4-MEI is a suspected carcinogen when it mixes in the ammonia compound to make caramel color. CSPI has asked the FDA ban the use of caramel coloring in sofa drinks. Coca-Cola has directed formula changes for beverages sold in California since 4-MEI was added to California’s toxic chemical list in January.

Coca-Cola has also directed all of its caramel suppliers to modify their manufacturing process to reduce levels of 4-MEI, which means all states will benefit from California’s initiative to reduce human exposure to toxic chemicals.

PepsiCo Inc. will also modify its manufacturing process. 

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About Ryan Walker

Michigan State University graduate student in the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition.
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