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PepsiCo, Coca-Cola Diverge on Eliminating 4-MEI from Colas in US

Posted by Dale Buss on July 10, 2013 10:41 AM

Often a bellwether, California is playing a key role again in a brewing food-safety controversy involving PepsiCo and the alleged carcinogen that helps give colas their caramel color.

PepsiCo recently reformulated its colas sold in California to comply with provisions of the 27-year-old Proposition 65, which requires food and beverage companies to warn consumers about potential toxins in their products. It did so after an Oakland-based group called Center for Environmental Health (CEH) last year helped prod both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola to pledge to remove the chemical in question, known as 4-MEI for short.

Testing this year by CEH revealed that Coca-Cola, as promised, had reformulated its drinks across the United States in order to eliminate or minimize MEI. But Pepsi had only taken care of California, where it was in apparent violation of Proposition 65.

"Our caramel coloring suppliers have been working on modifying the manufacturing process to reduce the amount of 4-MEI," PepsiCo said in a statement addressing the research conclusions that CEH released last week. "As you know, the 4-MEI levels in our products in California are below Prop 65 levels. The rest of the US will be completed by February 2014. In fact, we'll be starting the process and shipping concentrate end of this year."

Flyover Country is used to being the last affected by each great wave of regulation, but East Coasters might take offense at PepsiCo's apparent disregard for protecting them as quickly from 4-MEI as the company has Californians.

In any event, PepsiCo isn't the only company newly being targeted by wielders of this old law such as CEH. The California state attorney general has accused several large California grocery stores—including outlets of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Markets—of selling lead-tainted ginger and plum candies that contain dangerously high levels of lead.

Some in the business community have been mustering resistance to the ways in which the state government and allied advocacy groups have been attempting to apply Prop 65 to more and more diverse cases. They say the law is too vague and should be reformed to prevent plaintiff's lawyers from filing frivolous and expensive suits over minor violations of the rule, which include failing to post notices about naturally occurring chemicals in foods and beverages.

Image courtesy Gizmodo

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