Coca-Cola to Phase Out Toxic Sodium Benzoate in the U.K.

By David Gutierrez | The Coca-Cola Company has announced that it is in the process of phasing out the use of food additive sodium benzoate in the United Kingdom, after a number of studies have linked it to a wide variety of health problems.

Coca-Cola said that it had begun removing the chemical from its new batches of Diet Coke in January, and that the process would be complete by the end of the year. The company also intends to remove the additive from other soft drinks, although it has yet to find an effective replacement for it in certain fruit-juice containing products, such as Fanta and Dr. Pepper.

Sodium benzoate, also known as E211, is a preservative used to prevent mold from growing in soft drinks. It naturally occurs in certain fruits, including apples, cranberries and fruits, but in much lower concentrations than those used by the beverage industry.

Yet in combination with vitamin C – which naturally occurs in many soft drinks, or is added as another preservative – sodium benzoate can react to form the carcinogenic chemical benzene. Other studies have found that sodium benzoate can cause damage to human DNA, switching off certain sections of the genetic code and increasing the risk of Parkinson’s disease and cirrhosis of the liver.

Sodium benzoate also made the news recently as one of the chemicals implicated in increasing children’s risk of hyperactivity in a study by researchers from Southampton University. The other six implicated chemicals were all food colorings.

In response to the study, the British Food Standards Agency called for the six colors to be banned, but did not ask the same for sodium benzoate.

Coke attributed its decision not to the health effects of the additive, but to increasing consumer demand for natural ingredients.

“We are continuously looking at emerging trends and listening to our consumers thoughts about ingredients,” a company spokesperson said.

Competing companies have no plans to stop using the ingredient.