What does Coke, Pepsi and Pet Food have in common? Caramel coloring. The very same caramel coloring that the Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking the FDA to ban as a cancer risk. The very same caramel coloring WebMD reports is linked to cancer in lab animals.
What does Coke, Pepsi and Pet Food not have in common? Coke and Pepsi are taking steps to lower the levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MIE) the known animal carcinogen contained in caramel coloring in their sodas. Pet food is not.
What is 4-Methylimdazole (4-MIE)?
From the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment…
4-Methylimidazole (4-MEI) is a compound used to make certain pharmaceuticals, photographic chemicals, dyes and pigments, cleaning and agricultural chemicals, and rubber products. 4-MEI is formed during the production of certain caramel coloring agents used in many food and drink products. It may also be formed during the cooking, roasting, or other processing of some foods and beverages. Studies published in 2007 by the federal government’s National Toxicology Program showed that long-term exposure to 4-MEI resulted in increases in lung cancer in male and female mice. These findings were the basis for the addition of 4-MEI to California’s Proposition 65 list of carcinogens.
The State of California set a benchmark for 4-MEI levels in foods (including pet foods) or beverages of 29 micrograms per serving. Any product (including pet foods) above this benchmark level will be required to add a cancer warning on the label. And yes, Coke and Pepsi have probably taken the action to lower the 4-MEI levels in their sodas because of the California ruling; a cancer warning on a soda can isn’t the best marketing.
Will the California ruling mean some pet foods will require a cancer warning on the label?
That will depend on the exact levels of 4-MEI in the caramel color ingredient of each pet food (confident that no manufacturer would tell me what levels of 4-MEI is in their pet foods, I didn’t ask). But considering the ingredient is listed high on the ingredient panel in some pet foods, we can safely guess that some pet foods will either remove the color or face the cancer warning label for products sold in California.
Carmel coloring adds no health benefit to the pet, it is simply to please the eye of the petsumer (or perhaps mislead the eye of the petsumer, depending on how you look at it). If the pet food you provide your dog or cat contains the ingredient caramel color, ask the manufacturer to provide you the level of 4-MEI or 4-methylimidazole in the food per cup for dry/kibble pet food or per can for canned pet food. California limits are 29 micrograms per serving for an adult. With the information they provide or if they do not provide you with this information, you can then determine if the pet food is acceptable to feed your pet.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author, Buyer Beware
Co-Author Dinner PAWsible
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