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Federal Trade Commission responds to CU’s caramel color request 4/14

Earlier this year, we shared our test results showing that many sodas and soft drinks with caramel color contain the possibly-carcinogenic chemical byproduct 4-MeI. We also shared these results with the Federal Trade Commission, and expressed our concern with what we believe are the false representation and deceptive marketing practices by caramel color manufacturers.

Two leading caramel color manufacturers and the American Beverage Association, the trade group for the soda industry, state in their marketing materials that caramel color is considered “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since their use is purely aesthetic and unnecessary in foods and beverages, the FDA never considers color additives to be “Generally Recognized as Safe.” Instead, color additives must meet a higher threshold of safety than most other food additives. Yet by representing its artificial color additives in this way, we believe caramel color manufacturers are misleading their own customers as well as consumers interested in learning more about the safety of caramel color.

We requested that the FTC investigate this matter and take appropriate enforcement action to stop the deceptive representation of caramel color as “Generally Recognized as Safe.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) responded to our letter, agreeing that the Generally Recognized as Safe designation does not apply to caramel color. And even though the FTC also wrote that marketing statements that caramel color is Generally Recognized as Safe “may be technically inaccurate,” the agency wrote that it would not take action at this time. Read our letter and FTC’s response.

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