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Fizzed out

(article, Kim Carlson)

If empty calories and potential tooth decay aren’t enough to scare you away from soda pop, this might: The Independent reports that sodium benzoate, a common ingredient in many sodas, may cause serious health damage:

bq. Research from a British university suggests a common preservative found in drinks such as Fanta and Pepsi Max has the ability to switch off vital parts of DNA.

bq. The problem — more usually associated with aging and alcohol abuse — can eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's.

Sodium benzoate, which is derived from benzoic acid (which itself occurs naturally in some fruits), is used in high quantities to preserve sodas and other foods. But it has not been rigorously or recently tested, says Peter Piper, a professor at the U.K.’s Sheffield University. Piper himself has been working on the additive since 1999:

bq. Professor Piper, whose work has been funded by a (British) government research council, said tests conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were out of date. 

bq."The food industry will say these compounds have been tested and they are complete (sic) safe," he said. "By the criteria of modern safety testing, the safety tests were inadequate. Like all things, safety testing moves forward and you can conduct a much more rigorous safety test than you could 50 years ago."

In other words, what we don't know can hurt us. 

Interestingly, it has long been known that sodium benzoate is a potential carcinogen: 

bq. Sodium benzoate has already been the subject of concern about cancer because when mixed with the additive vitamin C in soft drinks, it causes benzene, a carcinogenic substance.

It seems unlikely that the FDA, which has its hands full, will retest any time soon. And that's unfortunate, given the number of gallons of the sweet stuff people drink.

*Also on Culinate: More on harmful foods.