People love Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. A lot. This beverage has its own twitter account with nearly 78,000 followers. When Starbucks announced they would start selling this seasonal beverage early, people lost their damn minds. Quite honestly, the love some people have for the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte is… troubling… but I’m not one not judge.
But you know who is judge-y? Food Babe (a.k.a. Vani Hari) and Jezebel. In posts sure to anger and/or terrify Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte enthusiasts everywhere, Hari and Jezebel lay out why you should be scared of your latte. Hari and Jezebel even pull out the BIG C…
From Hari’s post:
- A U.S government funded study found that feeding mice caramel coloring IV (which contained 4-Mel) increased their risk of developing lung cancer and leukemia, at every dosage level.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies 4-Mel as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
- Any food or drink that contains more than 29 micrograms of 4-Mel requires a cancer warning label In California (under Prop 65) that says, “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.”
Jezebel’s post seems to summarize this with “…Class IV Caramel Color, a common food additive that’s being investigated by the FDA, is illegal in high doses and has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer and leukemia in mice, regardless of dosage.”
Well, damn. Looks like Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes are off the menu.
Except… what’s this? A Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Q&A on caramel food coloring and 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI)? It’s a quick read, so I urge you pop over here and read it. I’ve collected the bits I found most interesting below.
- 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) is a chemical compound that is not directly added to food; rather it is formed as a byproduct in some foods and beverages during the normal cooking process…. 4-MEI also forms as a trace impurity during the manufacturing of certain types of caramel coloring (known as Class III and Class IV caramel coloring) that are used to color cola-type beverages and other foods.
- Based on the available information, FDA has no reason to believe that there is any immediate or short-term danger presented by 4-MEI at the levels expected in food from the use of caramel coloring.
- In 2007, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) issued a report summarizing the results of toxicological testing conducted on 4-MEI in rats and mice. A 2-year study in rats was inconclusive regarding carcinogenicity, but a 2-year mouse study showed an increased incidence of certain lung tumors. These NTP studies were conducted in rodents at levels of 4-MEI that far exceed current estimates of human exposure to 4-MEI from the consumption of Class III and Class IV caramel coloring in food products such as colas.
- To ensure that the use of caramel coloring in food continues to be safe, FDA is currently reviewing all available data on the safety of 4-MEI and is reassessing potential consumer exposure to 4-MEI from the use of Class III and Class IV caramel coloring in food products… However, in the interim, FDA is not recommending that consumers change their diets because of concerns about 4-MEI.
- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessed the risk to 4-MEI from the use of caramel colors in 2011 and concluded that human exposure to 4-MEI in Europe was well below the threshold level reflected in the NTP study. In 2012, EFSA re-evaluated the consumer exposure to 4-MEI from the use of caramel colors, and reaffirmed its 2011 conclusion. EFSA also noted that 4-MEI does not appear to cause DNA mutations (genotoxicity) and that the type of tumors observed in the mice from the NTP study can occur spontaneously in these animals. For these reasons, EFSA concluded that they had no concerns about Europeans being exposed to 4-MEI from the use of caramel coloring in food.
My conclusion upon reading the FDA Q&A… I’ll be enjoying a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. Hell, I’ll order two – one for each hand. With extra pumpkin spice syrup.
Leading image from Starbucks