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Coca Cola to revise levels of 4-MI chemical in U.S. sodas amid cancer concerns

AP Photo/Thibault Camus

(CBS News) Despite their insistence that Coca-Cola does not contain any harmful ingredients, the company announced today that they were switching to a new, low 4-MI formula to meet  requirements of California law that may may have mandated a cancer warning label on bottles and cans.

Coca-Cola Co. spokesperson Ben Sheidler told HealthPop by e-mail that Coke is not reformulating their classic beverage, but made the decision to ask its caramel suppliers to meet the necessary manufacturing modifications to meet California's Prop 65. The proposition requires the state governor to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Coca-Cola would also be required to post a cancer warning label on their products with high levels of 4-MI.

Sheidler reiterated that even before the changes were made, Coca-Cola has always been safe for human consumption. "The caramel color in all of our products has been, is and always will be safe," he said, adding that they made the changes so they would not be subject to a "scientifically unfounded" warning.

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The changes will be implemented nationally, but won't affect other Coca-Cola products worldwide.

The 4-MI chemical, which provides the caramel color in cola drinks, has been shown in lab studies to cause cancer in rats, but not in humans. California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment set a level of 29 micrograms of 4-MI before a product has to bear a cancer warning label. However, a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found that cola cans, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Snapple Group Inc's Dr. Pepper, and Whole Foods' 365 Cola, had levels near 140 micrograms in each 12-ounce can, Reuters reported.

The American Beverage Association reiterated that science "simply does not show that 4-MEI in foods or beverages is a threat to human health."

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