The Dose Makes the Poison (Even if You’re a Rat)

One of America’s foremost authorities on manipulating the media to spark panic among health-conscious consumers is never far from making the news cycle. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), our thirst for cola could also be killing us with cancer—if you’re a tiny rodent, that is.

Countless media outlets and bloggers have been echoing CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson’s claim that caramel coloring in cola drinks contains “chemical by-products” that “promote[s] lung, liver, and thyroid tumors in laboratory rats and mice.” Jacobsen, though, has conveniently neglected to mention that the rodents received ultra-high doses of these “chemical by-products” (known as 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole, or 2-MeI and 4-MeI for short). Reporters don’t seem to mind (or notice) the omission.

TIME health reporter Bryan Walsh was so eager to trumpet CSPI's soda warning that he prefaced Jacobson’s fear mongering with a laundry list of anti-soda hysteria we've already endured from the food-police establishment:

"Soda is not good for you. The high-calorie, sugary drinks have been linked to obesity and a host of other health problems. Soda can be particularly dangerous to children, who can consume lots of calories quickly through colas and other pop without feeling full. And then there's the dental toll — it doesn't take a peer-reviewed study to tell you that drinking lots of sweetened soda isn't great for your teeth."

That’s just the introductory paragraph.

Luckily, a few brave souls aren’t using their credentials and influence to join the cancer scare. ABC News reporter Ben Forer spoke with Dr. Fred Guengerich, professor of biochemistry at Vanderbilt University, who says human soda drinkers have nothing to worry about:

"Is it [caramel coloring] a carcinogen? The tests have shown in mice it can increase the risk of cancer. On the other hand, there is also evidence in male rats, it prevented several kinds of cancer … Basically my advice would be just to relax …

"I did some simple math. … If you look at the study in terms of what the mice got, in terms of causing any effect, a human being would have to drink more than 1,000 sodas a day."

So by all means, if you’re a lab rat you should probably cut down on fizzy pop. But for the rest of us, the health risks might start long after our bladders burst. Somehow we don’t think it will be an issue.

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