Serious Science Smashes Soda Scare

At least the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) can be given points for consistency — consistency in needlessly overblowing fears about many of the foods we eat. Its latest trumped-up soda scare is just another piece of evidence showing why.

CSPI put out a reckless press release yesterday claiming that 15,000 cancers will be caused by a chemical in caramel coloring called 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI). Actual experts, however, have different views. A Food and Drug Administration spokesman told Bloomberg News that the agency has no reason to believe that caramel colors pose any danger to consumers. Likewise, European and Canadian regulators — who are no strangers to regulations — have found no reason to be concerned by the levels of 4-MEI in the coloring.

The FDA spokesman estimated that a person would have to drink over 1,000 cans of soda per day for life to achieve the dose linked to cancer in one rodent study.  (A Vanderbilt University biochemistry professor made the same estimate when CSPI first trumpeted the scare.) The dose makes the poison, even if the harmful dose spoils a good food scare.

Of course, overblown hype should be expected from CSPI. This group called fettuccine alfredo a “heart attack on a plate” and even said “the charges against trans fat just don’t stand up” before later changing its tune. Likewise, CSPI promoted a cancer scare about the sugar substitute saccharin and kept it up even after the sweetener was struck from the National Toxicology Program’s list of possible carcinogens.

What does CSPI stand to gain? Well, CSPI has a history of backing lawsuits against food companies (and failing to win them). With California activists preparing to sue soda manufacturers over 4-MEI under California’s Proposition 65 and trial lawyers in position to reap the whirlwind, perhaps CSPI is looking for some “expert” witness retainers.

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