US consumer groups have pushed to have a possibly carcinogenic chemical scrapped

Stateside concerns over carcinogenic food colouring has driven Newcastle Brown Ale to change its recipe.

The chemical that gives the beer its signature brown colour will be scrapped, according to a statement from Dutch drinks giant Heineken.

The European Food Safety Authority has twice ruled that the caramel-colouring ingredient is safe, and the US food and Drug Administration agrees, but US consumer groups have applied to pressure and forced a change.

A Heineken spokesman confirmed to the Telegraph: “We are in the process of changing our recipe for Newcastle Brown Ale and it will no longer include caramel colouring.

“The amount used in Newcastle Brown Ale is well within the recommended safe levels set by these bodies.

“However, we listened to consumer concerns that have been expressed, particularly in the USA, and chose to review our recipe.

“We will now achieve the distinctive colouring and flavour of Newcastle Brown Ale, that our consumers enjoy, by using roasted malts instead.”

The chemical causing the fuss is 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) which, as a natural occurrence in brown drink brewing, is also found in Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

Like Newcastle Brown Ale, these popular fizzy drinks have changed their recipes in recent years to lower the levels of 4-MEI following the publication of a 2007 study that claimed the chemical caused lung tumours in animal test subjects.

California has listed 4-MEI as a carcinogen.

The taste of Newcastle Brown Ale is unlikely to change, according to alcohol expert Alistair Gilmore.

He said: "It is absolutely possible for them to maintain the taste and appearance of the beer by changing the colouring. It should be exactly the same.

"Some people say they have changed the ingredients over the years but I’m not sure whether they have or not.

"People say it does not taste the same as it used to. This could be a mixture of nostalgia, modern brewing techniques or the change in water."

The beer, first sold near St James Park stadium in Newcastle in 1927 but having recently moved to North Yorkshire by way of Gateshead, is one of the best known and best loved both in the UK and the US.