Vani Hari is one of the fastest rising stars in the organic food industry. In just two years, her facebook page has collected nearly one million likes! Her book is due to come out in a couple weeks, and it will most likely shoot to the top of bestselling lists. Although a computer scientist by training, she posts articles on the chemistry of food on her website. Hari has been repeatedly condemned by nutritionists, doctors, chemists and other food-related professionals for adopting an unscientific, scare-mongering approach.
Her latest target, which she claims to be carcinogenic, is the variety of caramel color (CC) found in beer. According to her blog, the biggest reason that she decided to investigate the beer companies was that “my husband likes to drink beer on occasion, and Newcastle was his favorite. … This was the only thing in my fridge that I didn’t know what was in it and I decided to change this.” After contacting Newcastle in 2013, they wouldn’t tell her all the ingredients. So, she decided to post this warning on her blog, which went viral, with millions of page views:
“This caramel coloring is manufactured by heating ammonia and sulfites [sic] under high pressure, which creating [sic] carcinogenic compounds. If beer companies were required by law to list the ingredients, Newcastle would likely have to have a cancer warning label under California law because it is a carcinogen proven to cause liver tumors, lung tumors, and thyroid tumors in rats and mice”.
Caramel color is one of the oldest and most widely used food colorings, and is found in many commercially produced foods and beverages, including, doughnuts, potato chips, fruit preserves, ice cream, soft drinks (especially colas), frozen desserts, pickles, brown bread, buns, chocolate, cookies, cough drops, beer, spirits and liquor such as brandy, rum, and whiskey, custards, fillings and toppings, dessert mixes, fish and shellfish spreads, glucose tablets, gravy, ice cream, pickles, sauces and dressings, sweets, vinegar, and more.
The US Food and Drug Administration classifies caramel color as exempt from certification, meaning that it is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Thus, according to USFDA, as far as the carcinogenicity of beer is concerned, there is no limit on the amount of beer you can drink. The United Nations Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has set the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of Class III and IV caramel color – found in beer – as 0–200 mg/kg body weight. This means that an average person weighing 75 kg can safely consume 15 grams of CC per day. A typical beer contains less than 0.1% CC, or less than 0.355 grams of CC per can, and in order to surpass the safety limit imposed by JECFA, an average person should consume more than 42 cans of beer per day!